Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Clara Brown

From: United States: Colorado, Missouri, Virginia
Fields: Activism and Social Service
Clara Brown was born a slave in Virginia, U.S.A. in 1803. When she was three years old, Clara and her mother were sold to their next owner where she remained for almost twenty years. Clara married at age eighteen and had two daughters and a son. Then, after the death of the owner, she and her family members were sold at an auction to different bidders and Clara was moved to the state of Kentucky. Clara Brown was fifty-five years old when her third owner died. She was now able to buy her freedom but, according to the Kentucky law, she had to leave the state immediately or she would lose it.

By 1859, she was living in St. Louis, Missouri when the Gold Rush enticed her to move westward. She joined a caravan going to Denver, Colorado and she paid for the trip by bartering her services as a cook, laundress and nurse. During her short stay in Denver, she helped two ministers start a Sunday school. Then she moved to Central City, Colorado, where she did nursing, opened a laundry, organized another Sunday school and a church. She also invested in mining claims and made about $10,000 by the mid-1860s.

After the Civil War, she traveled east to look for her family and returned with thirty-four of her relatives but she couldn't find her children. However, many years later she was able to find one of her daughters. Clara Brown also helped many other African-Americans go west in search of a better life by paying for their trips on a number of wagon trains.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters by Tonya Bolden, Adams Media Corporation, 1996


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