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Part 1: 1450-1750
Part 2: 1750-1805
<--Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865

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People & Events
The Douglass family
1803 - 1882

Resource Bank Contents



The Douglasses were among several free black families who formed the core of Philadelphia's abolitionist movement.

Grace Bustill Douglass ran a millinery store out of her home and provided aid for poor blacks. Her husband, Robert Douglass, a hairdresser, was one of the founders of Philadelphia's first African Presbyterian Church. Grace and her daughter, Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882), were both active members of the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833.

Grace's father, Cyrus Bustill, had been a baker and a prominent member of the Free African Society. In 1803, he established a school for black children in his home. Bustill died in 1806, the same year Sarah was born.

Like many prosperous families, the Douglasses educated Sarah and her brother Robert at home with private tutors. Robert Jr., a painter who studied at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts, opened a portrait and daguerreotype studio from which he also sold his sister's hand-painted silk scarves. He was among the hundreds of black Philadelphians who emigrated to Haiti in 1824, many of them returning to the United States within a year.

In 1820, at the age of 16, Sarah opened a school for black children. She later studied anatomy at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania and the Ladies' Institute of Pennsylvania Medical University, and taught health classes in her home to black women. For nearly 25 years she was a teacher and administrator at the Institute for Colored Youth, where she pioneered the introduction of scientific subjects into the curriculum.




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Letter to William Basset





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