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Hairdresser's Experience in High Life

Eliza Potter

Publication Year: 2009

Here is the first fully annotated edition of a landmark in early African American literature, the 1859 autobiography of Eliza Potter, a freeborn black woman who, as a hairdresser, was in a unique position to hear about, receive confidences from, and observe wealthy white women. Xiomara Santamarina provides an insightful introduction to this edition that includes newly discovered information about Potter, discusses the author's strong satirical voice and proud working-class status, and places the narrative in the context of 19th-century literature and history.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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A Note on the Text

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pp. ix-x

This volume reprints the 1859 first edition of A Hairdresser’s Experience in High Life, published in Cincinnati by Rickey and Mallory. I have silently corrected obvious printer’s errors and the placement of some punctuation marks; otherwise...

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INTRODUCTION: Eliza Potter: Black “Working Woman,” Author, and Social Critic

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pp. xi-xxxv

This edition of A Hairdresser’s Experience in High Life (1859) brings new visibility to a black woman’s autobiography that challenges many of our ideas about nineteenth-century African American history and literature. A firsthand account of work...

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pp. 1-2

It may perhaps be considered presumptive for one in my humble sphere of life to think of writing a book; but, influenced by the earnest persuasions of many ladies and gentlemen, I have at last concluded that I might just as well note down a few of my experiences...

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1. My Debut

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pp. 3-12

I have promised to give you a sketch of my experiences in those walks of life where fate has led me, up to the present time. You will find them somewhat rambling and desultory; but I beg you will overlook much that you will find...

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2. England

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pp. 13-19

We arrived in London on the morning Prince Albert was to lay the corner-stone of the Royal Exchange.1 There was a crush of people in the streets; but as I was determined to see the procession and other grand doings, I rushed after the crowd...

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3. America

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pp. 20-27

It seemed to me that I was destined always to arrive at places upon confused and excited occasions. The Colt hanging was the order of the day upon my arrival in New York, and the whole populace was in the streets; but a few moments before the scene...

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4. Saratoga

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pp. 28-54

I had for some time intended going to Saratoga, and, having entirely recovered my health, concluded to start immediately, and spend the summer there. I arrived in the hight of the gay season. Belles were there from all parts of the country...

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5. Leaving Saratoga—Burning of the Baggage Car—Visit to New York

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pp. 55-63

The season at Saratoga having closed, I had to return to Albany to get paid for my clothes. I had forgotten to mention that the season I have just been describing, my baggage had been all burned up on my way to Saratoga. I will now give you a description of the circumstance...

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6. Newport—The Maid's Story

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pp. 64-71

I will now go back in my narrative to the season of 1850. I was that year at work at Saratoga. The nephew of President Polk coming there with his family, consisting of his wife, two children, a man and maid servant, and the lady wishing to have a maid and hair-dresser...

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7. Minnie

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pp. 72-83

Some twenty years ago, I knew a family in Kentucky, all the members of which were remarkable for their beauty. We will call them the Smiths. There were two beautiful daughters; the elder one, I called by the pet name of Minnie. As a child, she was amiable and lovely; and she grew up both beautiful and intelligent...

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8. Natchez—New Orleans

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pp. 84-115

I have spent many seasons in the South; sometimes I was in Natchez and Vicksburg, and at the plantations along the coast, but generally the greater portion of my time was spent in the city of New Orleans.1 I have been witness to many queer scenes in this southern country...

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9. Cincinnati

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pp. 116-178

It is now some fifteen or sixteen years since I learned the art of hairdressing. During most of that time I was East and South, dressing hair, as the Cincinnati ladies were not French enough to employ a hair-dresser at that time; but in these latter days...

APPENDIX A: Biographical Information on Eliza Potter (1820?–1893)

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pp. 179-182

APPENDIX B: Newspaper Reviews of A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life

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pp. 183-198


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pp. 199-214

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605319
E-ISBN-10: 1469605317
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833353
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833355

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009