On the morning of January 25,Jane Pitts woke up to newspaper headlines that her daughter Helen, without her knowledge, had married the famous abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass.
The news of the union shocked many people, and scrutiny came from all sides at once toward the newlyweds, who now found themselves in the middle of a controversy. Who was Helen Pitts Douglass, and how did her marriage to Frederick become akin to a national scandal?
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Born to an upstate New York family whose kin included Franklin D. After pursuing higher education and obtaining a degree a rare accomplishment for a woman at that timeshe briefly worked as a teacher in Norfolk, Virginia, where a school was opened for Black children soon after the city surrendered to Union forces during the Civil War.
Constantly harassed by Confederate sympathizers, Black students in Norfolk faced many barriers to receiving an education. During her tenure, Pitts stood her ground and defended her students, causing whoever harassed them to be arrested and fined for their behaviour.
Unfortunately, her teaching career was cut short by an illness that forced her to stay bedridden for years.
In Pitts moved to Washington, D. Pitts and Frederick became acquaintances through letters in which they discussed politics with each other. It was in that year that his wife of more than 40 years passed away.
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In Januaryin a surprising move that not even their own families saw coming, Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts married in the home of a mutual friend. The immediate reaction from their families was unfavourable, to say the least.
Her father, Gideon Pitts, refused to talk to her again and excluded her from his will. Around the country, responses to the marriage tended to be negative. In reality, Helen and Frederick were 21 years apart.
Criticisms from both whites and Blacks targeted the interracial nature of the marriage. Black publications implied that Douglass was betraying his race and his cause by marrying a white woman.
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Despite the negative press, some influential activists and friends of his, such as journalist Ida B. Wellsspoke in defense of the couple. Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts Douglass remained married until his death in After his will was contested by his children, Helen secured loans in order to buy Cedar Hill and preserve it as a memorial to her late husband. Because of her perseverance, Cedar Hill is now a national historic site where visitors can see original furnishings in the home that she and Frederick Douglass lived and worked in.
Home Companion. By Brandon Zang.