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Black History & Women’s History in Virginia City

In honor of Black History Month and as a lead into Women’s History Month
in March, we’d like to recognize the black women and girls who were
members of the Storey County community and identified in the 1870 and
1880 U.S. censuses.  Each of the women were certainly striving to make a
living in the mining community and care for their families.  It should
also be noted that some of the women may have been enslaved just a short
time before the 1870 census.

In the 1870 census, thirty-two black women and girls were residents of
Storey County.  The women with occupations listed included fifteen
keeping house, four prostitutes, two milliners, two servants, one
dressmaker, and one washwoman.  Their ages ranged from two to 54 years
old.  Their places of birth included five in Maryland, four in Virginia,
four in Nevada, three in Massachusetts, two in California, South
Carolina, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Kentucky, one in Connecticut, New
York and D.C., and one in England, Jamacia and Nova Scotia.  Of
particular interest from the 1870 census are Elizabeth Vincent, age 40,
and Annie Vincent, age 24, both of whom were listed with occupations in
a “Millinery Store”, with Elizabeth being the head of the family.  For
women in the fashion and sewing trades, milliners, who made custom and
elaborate hats, were considered the upper level of the trade.  Elizabeth
and Annie were both born in Maryland.  Elizabeth was also included in
the 1871-72 Storey County Directory for millinery.

In the 1880 census, forty-three black women and girls were residents of
Storey County.  Occupations listed included sixteen keeping house, seven
servants, two prostitutes, two dressmakers, one seamstress, one hair
dresser, and one washwoman.  In 1880, we also find “at school” indicated
for seven of the younger girls, which we do not see in the 1870 census.
Only five of the women in 1870 were also residents in the 1880 census.
In 1880, their ages ranged from 11 months old to 50 years old.  Their
places of birth included seven in Nevada, five in California and
Kentucky, four in Maryland and Virginia, three in Missouri, two in D.C.,
Canada and Louisiana, and one in Georgia, Mexico, Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Panama, Bermuda, and “British

“Dressmaker’s Shop” display in the Comstock Exhibit

Our Dressmaker’s Exhibit in the Comstock History Room at the Museum
showcases some of the clothing, equipment and tools used by those in the
fashion trades.  To learn more about the history and diversity of women
on the Comstock and their various community roles, activities, and
occupations, we recommend in the book _Comstock Women, The Making of a
Mining Community_, edited by Ronald M. James and C. Elizabeth Raymond.