A Little Natural Hair History

I spend so much time looking forward, sometimes I need a reminder to look back, marvel, and appreciate how far we’ve come. I got a wonderful reminder from esteemed Caribbean-born author Nalo Hopkinson, who sent me a link to Yale’s online Beinecke archive of rare books and manuscripts. In the Randolph Linsly Simpson African American Collection there are “vivid pictures of black life and American racial attitudes from the 1850s to the 1940s.” Some are astounding, some are surprising, some are sad. All are worth seeing, absorbing, and appreciating.

 

This full length portrait of Zumigo; lady in very fancy dress and huge Afro, standing next to gigantic basket prop” was taken in 1880. WOW at her stunning hair! And her style is giving me inspiration – a ruffled skirt with a pair of flat boots might be in order this spring, for real.

This is titled “Sissaretta Jones, “the Black Patty” singer, entertainer, leader of a musical company.” The photograph is undated, but Sissieretta Jones lived from 1868 to 1933, and she was a popular opera singer who performed at the White House for Presidents Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, and Roosevelt – as well as the British Royal Family. Her life story is amazing.

This portrait of young black woman wearing a gingham dress and gold (tinted) jewelry is dated 1860. Unlike some vintage photos where even the woman’s face looks evocative of a previous era, I think this woman possesses a timeless beauty.

Love this portrait of a “woman with “Afro” hair dressing” from 1880. Please check out her outfit – not sure if it’s a top, or a dress. But the shoulder details are FLY and that’s the kind of thing I see fashionistas rocking today!

WOW at this cameo portrait of a lady wearing spectacles; hair dressing comes to a point; elaborate dark dress. Was that the hot style back in the day? That hair is statement making and I bet the quality and age of the cameo portrait doesn’t reveal any of its intricacy. Dated 1895.

There’s something radiant and lovely in this cameo portrait of a young lady with with elaborate lace dress front..

I wish there was more detail here. I’d love to know what products these women used on their hair and skin, what their lives were like…so much more. But for now all we have are these stunning photographs. I hope you love them as much as I do.

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Comments

  1. Gorgeous. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing these images. It’s unfortunate that we don’t see enough images like these of black women in the 19th century.

    Made my day.

  3. Tester 70 says:

    Portrait 4, don’t know why this hair speaks to me but it is awesome. And all of them have flawless skin.

  4. Hair: The ultimate style accessory, then and now. What great photos.

  5. Oh wow! I love history, black women and hair! This post is amazing, Bella. I am fascinated by the first lady’s hair. A full afro at that time? I wonder if it was common in her part of the world back then. The lady in the 3rd pic looks as if she could step out of that picture and live in this time. All of these are incredible pics!

  6. OMG! I love everything about this post. Let me find out one of these fly women is my great-great-great grandmother or something. LOL

  7. I downloaded a ton of pictures from the Schomburg Collection when I was working on my historical novel, Given. But I didn’t see any with fabulous afros like this. Too awesome.

  8. WOW. very cool pics!

  9. Zumingo, was actually known as a “Circassian Beauty”. These were women who traveled with the circus and side-shows. They were often european and were showcased as examples of racial purity. This gets really ironic and interesting the further you dive into it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circassian_beauties

  10. Thanks for a great post

  11. That is really cool, thank you for posting these photos!

  12. this was such a nice read. The pics are gorgeous.

  13. There was a recent NP thread on so-called “Circassian women” pointing to this site:

    http://www.sideshowworld.com/BL-History-CircassianB.html

    Also, for great historical pictures in general…wait, didn’t I get this from your blog? LOL…I need to stay off the Internet. :) Anyway, check this site out:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackheritage/

  14. I absolutely love this post! It’s awesome to look back at the beautiful and trend-setting sense of style Black women have always had.

  15. Yes, they are beautiful! great post!

  16. ashtastiic says:

    That first image is a cessarian women, they had to have their hair washed in beer and teased to make it look like that. They were considered the “purest” europeans

  17. Oh my goodness Thank you for the link!! :) :) :) :) Love the first image with the sister rocking attitude in her pose and hair. I LOVE IT!!

  18. Helix and Ashtastiic – you really spread the knowledge today and I appreciate it!

    I found this link.

    More information about Cirassian beauties can be found there – the woman in the top photo was apparently a “self made freak” who would have toured with a circus or appeared at a sideshow or dime museum. Wow. I’m still amazed.

    So glad you’re liking this post – I’ll be sure to do more!

  19. warrior11209 says:

    Love the post , pics and additional info!

  20. I rarely comment on here, although I’m a daily stalker. But I wanted you to know that this was an awesome awesome post. Thank you. ;o)

  21. This is an amazing collection. I found the male and family portraits fascinating although I got a lump in my throat seeing the photo tagged slave. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Wonderful post :o)

  23. BARBARA SOLOSKI ALBIN says:

    GREAT PICTURES, THE CLOTHING THE HAIR, AND YES WOULDN’T IT BE WONDERFUL TO KNOW HOW THESE WOMEN DRESSED THEIR HAIR, WHAT THEY USED. THANK YOU FOR SHARING THSE PICTURES.

  24. Found your blog through jezebel, those pictures are amazing! great find!

  25. Thank you for this post. I love fashion and history! This is awesome!…My nephew is at Yale. I am going to encourage him to visit the library and see pictures first hand. Unfortantely,he finds only European features and hair beautiful. PRay for him. :)

  26. Absolutely amazing post! I love it, love it, love it! Keep ‘em coming….My favorite is the 2nd pic -Sissieretta, is that a dress with a built-in corset? The detailed overlay with slit shoulders, her ring, the jewelry, just gorgeousness from the hair on down.

  27. how fantastic is this!

    i love, love them all but the first one is major!

  28. Ginnette Powell @caffeinehusky says:

    Thanks so much for posting! I had no idea!

  29. I love that first photo. I aspire to that afro LOL.So sad that it was actually seen as freakish :(

  30. How wonderful – thank you so much for this fantastic article!

    These pictures are so precious – and so educational. Who knew that afros were worn in Victorian times? Fantastic, thank you!

    xxx

  31. designdiva says:

    love the story and the photos

  32. Very lovely photos.

  33. Definitely gives a different meaning to the words “lace front”. :) Thanks for this!

  34. Thanks for the suggestion to look up “circassian Beauty”. Absolutely fascinating.

  35. This is awesome Afrobella! Thanks for sharing:)

  36. Great post. These are beautiful and thought-provoking. Sometimes it’s just hair, sometimes it’s a sideshow attraction.

  37. I just had to come back and share. Today I was in the library searching memors and ran across a humorous memoir called I’m Down. You have to check out the front cover! It’s very fitting here in this discussion.

  38. Very nice post. How inspirational! Thanks for sharing!

  39. These are great pics!

  40. Intrigued by the “Circassian Beauty” references. Must research this.

  41. Great post. My family has late 19th century pictures of our matriarch and patriarch. They are great to see. Reminds me of a simpler time. Even thought black was beautiful it wasn’t fully recognized.

  42. This reminds me of the big leather photo album sitting on my grandmother’s coffee table. She has so many old photos from when her mother and grandmother were alive. I really enjoyed seeing all of the hairstyles.

  43. I love all the pictures. Looking at older pictures seems to bring me back in time.

  44. Melissa says:

    I love the third portrait. I feel like we look alike. Just classy and beautiful! Love them all!

  45. jasminethejigsaw says:

    omg…this touches my hair and my heart. :)

  46. Worn with pride!

  47. Evelyn Davis says:

    Who would have thought! Thanks.

  48. I hope my hair grows as long as the first lady’s picture sooooon.

  49. Afrobella, you should be careful posting these pictures because a lot of them where doctored by the photography studios they where taken at by the photogrophers. They would chop off the woman’s hair style be it corn rows or hair pinned up and curled in a style of the day and stick the Afro in its place. This was done to photograph of my great great grandmother that was taken at fancy studio in about 1890 and picture of my great grandmother as a little girl taken about 1914. The pictures of the women with the natural hair look just like my families doctored pictures. This was a common practice of that time. Something you should know from a historian.

  50. WOW! Great post! Thank you to Mimi for talking about the doctored photos of that time. I had no idea that that was common practice but was surprised to see the 4th photo as I know that type of hair style wasn’t commonplace during that time. Now it makes sense! Especially seeing that there is a triangular dark but still transparent “halo” going from the sides of the afro to the round curved shape of her head. The hair style is also out of place with her style of dress.

    Also, with the hairstyle in the picture just below that, the point on top of her head isn’t her hair. That’s a hair comb or hair pin securing the upswept hair. I collect them and am always on the look out for those at antique shows. Dang it…now I want to go shopping for hair toys! lol

  51. Michelle F. says:

    I liked all the photos my favourite being the first one, and not so much the hair but the boots! I LOVE BOOTS!!!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] found these after learning about Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library which Afrobella posted photos from today. It is startling to look at these faces and [...]

  2. [...] this is just awesome: A little natural hair history, courtesy of [...]

  3. […] If you haven’t already, please check out Afrobella’s post on natural hair from the 1800s! The pictures are absolutely stunning and well-captioned. I’ve posted two of my favorites here. For the rest check out the FULL POST. […]

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