Amanda Hergenrather is a writing major at Eastern Mennonite University interning at the Anacostia Community Museum, helping with research for the forthcoming book History of Place: Barry Farm/Hillsdale, a Postbellum African American Community in Washington, DC 1867-1970. Here Amanda tells the story of Elizabeth Chase one of the first settlers in the newly created African American community.
Elizabeth Chase was already free before the Civil War. Later she became an entrepreneur by trade and a suffragette by conviction. Born in the early 1840s, Elizabeth Chase likely led a life of privilege compared to many African American women in her day. Elizabeth’s mother, Caroline Chase, lived in Ward 2 where she and Elizabeth worked as washerwomen. Elizabeth’s two brothers were laborers. It was this work that likely contributed to her ability to purchase land and lumber for the house she would soon construct, east of the Anacostia River, in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. She bought a plot of land in the late 1860s, and by 1871 her newly built home stood on the corner of Elvans and Stanton Roads. Not only did Chase live alone in the home she was able to personally finance, she pursued self-employment all through her life in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. By 1874, she was running a restaurant in Uniontown, until she began a catering business based out of her home in 1884.
To run her businesses, Chase would have had to be proficient in reading, writing, and arithmetic; skills few other African American women could boast at the time. Elizabeth Chase took advantage of the opportunities she had been afforded, but she didn’t stop there. In 1877 Chase joined 33 African American Barry Farm/Hillsdale residents, male and female, including her mother Caroline Chase, in signing a petition penned by Frederick Douglass Jr. in favor of women’s suffrage. Rather than being content with her own good fortune, Chase recognized the need to give all women the autonomy to live their lives as they saw fit; autonomy that could one day be attained through gaining the right to vote. In signing the petition, Elizabeth and Caroline Chase left a mark in history. Even though the right to vote wouldn’t be afforded to American women for nearly half a century, the Chase women helped lay the groundwork that would be instrumental in attaining that right.
We honor the memory of Elizabeth Chase, an entrepreneur, homeowner, and independent suffragette, a most extraordinary and inspirational African American woman of the 19th century.