Born in Rhode Island in 1820 to the children of slaves, Christiana Cateaux Bannister began her career as a hairdresser and wigmaker in Boston at the young age of twenty. It was in Boston that Bannister, eventually popularly known professionally as “Madame Carteauz,” became a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, opening several salons.With salons located in Downtown Boston, Cambridge, and on Winter Street, Madame Carteaux developed a reputation among the African American community in New England for hairdressing and selling her own hair products. All three of these salons were open and operating until 1871 when Bannister and her husband relocated to Providence, Rhode Island.
In the time leading up to the Civil War, Bannister and her husband were activists and abolitionists, fighting to end slavery in each of the United States. Along with this activist, Bannister and her husband became deeply involved in the Underground Railroad, a system by which slaves would escape their masters through a chain of “safe houses” from the deep south all the way north to Canada.
During the Civil War, Bannister used her considerable wealth from owning such successful salons to advocate and lobby for equal pay for black soldiers in the Union Army and was influential in the creation of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first of its kind.
In November 1864 Christiana Cartcaux Bannister led the organization of a fair to benefit the members of the state’s African American regiments. There was a great need for such a fund-raiser to support the black soldiers, who had a dispute that had led them to serve without pay for a year and a half rather than accept less than white soldiers were paid.
African-American soldiers were paid $10 per month, from which $3 was deducted for clothing. White soldiers were paid $13 per month, from which no clothing allowance was deducted. If captured by the Confederate Army, African-American soldiers confronted a much greater threat than did their white counterparts.
In spite of their many hardships, African-American soldiers served the Union Army well and distinguished themselves in many battles.
Additionally, Madame Carteaux used her wealth to invest in the creation of a House for Aged Colored Women, a shelter for formerly-enslaved women considered too old to work domestically and were thus made homeless.