This podcast trilogy started with reading the book Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America by Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin. I thought Catto’s life would make a great story for the podcast, maybe more than one episode. So much was happening in 1860s Philadelphia. It was a curious mix of modern and traditional, of progress and violent racism. The city was growing and developing city-wide services that we now consider essential, like public education and transit. But Philadelphia was also a deeply divided city, and Black Philadelphians were being excluded from the city’s improvements, and endangered by everyday street violence. Then, the Civil War blew through Philadelphia like a typhoon, mobilizing both men and women for the war effort, and for the social changes to come.
As I researched Octavius Catto’s role in fighting for the integration of the streetcar, I came across the work of historian Judith Giesberg in Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front. In her book, Giesberg flips the script on the Civil War as a war fought in the male-dominated spheres of the battlefield, or in the houses of government. Instead, Giesberg looks at how women in Pennsylvania carried out their own battles at home. Giesberg dedicated a chapter to the Black women who were part of Catto’s fight to integrate Philadelphia’s streetcars. I knew that this story was the one I wanted to tell.
Giesberg was also involved with opening up another window into the lives of Philadelphia’s Black women during the Civil War. She and her team have made the diaries of Emilie Davis available in full online. Davis was a young Black dressmaker who lived in Philadelphia and kept a series of diaries throughout the years of the Civil War. These diaries were discovered in 2014 and are part of the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. While Davis was not a leader in the streetcar battles, she was intimate with many women who were.
Of all of the women who were part of Philadelphia’s streetcar fight, few were as charismatic as Caroline LeCount. She was Octavius Catto’s fiancée, and played a cameo role in Tasting Freedom in the streetcar battles. However, Giesberg’s research seemed to indicate that LeCount was much more comfortable center stage. As I got to know LeCount and her circle, I became more and more intrigued. I hope this podcast series will help even those who know the story of Octavius Catto to see the events unfolding from a new perspective. I also hope to shed some light on some lesser known parts of LeCount’s life that will hopefully spark other historians to give her some well-deserved time in the spotlight.
Poem to Caroline LeCount
And here, as promised, is the poem dedicated to Caroline LeCount on the occasion of her graduating first in her class from the Institute for Colored Youth in May 1863.
by R.B. Jones, a student at the Ashmun Institute
(From The Christian Recorder, May 30, 1863)
The Institute for Colored Youth
Much talent did display, forsooth,
About the first of May.
Five members of the senior class,
And what do well describe their “pass,”
Are these words, very good.
In Greek and Latin both they read,
And showed themselves well taught;
In mathematics it is said,
That they had fairly wrought.
They climbed the steeps of science well,
That high and towering mount;
But one did all the rest excel,
‘Twas Carrie R. LeCount.
Young friends you know these things are true,
Of which I now do speak;
O then I trust that all of you,
Will go and knowledge seek.
Muses, arise and slake your thirst,
At science’ purest fount;
Then forth in highest praises burst,
Of Carrie R. LeCount!
Explore this History for Yourself
And here are a few virtual places where you can go to explore this history for yourself:
We have to thank Judith Giesberg and her team for making Emilie Davis’s diaries available online at https://davisdiaries.villanova.edu/. You can read a transcription of the diaries as well as see the original pages. It’s really incredible.
For those of you who want to explore more of Philadelphia’s historic Seventh Ward, there is a great website with walking tour information at http://www.dubois-theward.org/. You can check out the historic sites online, or take the map with you and head out to the neighborhood.
For those of you who love history and have time to get involved, you should consider becoming a digital volunteer with the Smithsonian at https://transcription.si.edu/. If you’re interested in this particular period of history, go to the home page and, under “Browse Projects,” click on “Freedman’s Bureau” for a list of current projects. It’s amazing how much history is available online and you can be a part of that effort.
Amedeo, Jonah. “O.V. Catto Secondary School.” Octavius V. Catto. The Independence Hall Association. No date. Website: https://catto.ushistory.org/catto_maps/o-v-catto-secondary-school/
“Amusements.” Evening Star. April 5, 1882: 8.
An Equal Chance series, 2016. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxV5Ap19Ae0 (NOTE: Streetcar story starts about 17 minutes in.)
“Annual Report of the Managers of the Institute for Colored Youth, (Lombard St., Phila.)” Friends Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal. Vol. 16 (1863): 730-732, 748-749.
Bacon, Benjamin C. Statistics of the Colored People of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: Board of Education of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, 1859.
Bagley, W. School Discipline. New York: Macmillan, 1915.
Baldwin, Peter C. Domesticating the Street: The Reform of Public Space in Hartford, 1850-1930. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1999.
Biddle, Daniel R. and Murray Dubin. Tasting Freedom. Website:http://tastingfreedombook.com/
Biddle, Daniel R. and Murray Dubin. Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2010.
Cheape, Charles W. Moving the Masses: Urban Public Transit in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia 1880-1912. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.
“Commencement Exercises of the Institute for Colored Youth.” The Press. May 11, 1863.
Coppin, Fanny Jackson. Reminisces of School Life, and Hints on Teaching. Philadelphia: AME Book Concern, 1913.
Custis, John Trevor. The Public Schools of Philadelphia: Historical, Biographical, Statistical. Philadelphia: Burk & McFetridge Co. Publishers, 1897.
Diemer, Andrew. “Reconstructing Philadelphia: African Americans and Politics in the Post-Civil War North.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 133, no. 1 (January 2009): 29-58.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press: 1899.
Emilie Davis’s Civil War: The Diaries of a Free Black Woman in Philadelphia, 1863–1865. Ed. Judith Giesberg. State College, PA: Penn State Press, 2014.
Foner, Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015.
Foner, Philip S. “The Battle to End Discrimination Against Negroes on Philadelphia Streetcars: (Part I) Background and the Beginning of the Battle.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 40, no. 3 (July 1973), pp. 261-290.
Foner, Philip S. “The Battle to End Discrimination Against Negroes on Philadelphia Streetcars: (Part II) Background and the Beginning of the Battle.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 40, no. 4 (October 1973), pp. 355-379.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
Giesberg, Judith. Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Homefront. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Glenn, Myra C. “School Discipline and Punishment in Antebellum America.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 1, no. 4, 1981, pp. 395–408.
Grubbs, Patrick. “Riots (1830s and 1840s).” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers-Camden, 2015. Website https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/riots-1830s-and-1840s/
Hammack, David C. “Comprehensive Planning before the Comprehensive Plan: A New Look at the Nineteenth Century American City” in Two Centuries of American Planning. Danial Schaffer ed. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1988: 139-165.
Hayashida-Knight, Christopher H. “Sacrifices and Sufferings of True Americans”: Black Women’s Nationalism and Activism in Philadelphia, 1863-1901. Dissertation. The Pennsylvania State University The Graduate School College of Liberal Arts. 2017.
James, Milton M. “THE INSTITUTE FOR COLORED YOUTH.” Negro History Bulletin, vol. 21, no. 4, 1958, pp. 83–85.
Jones, R.B. “To Carrie.” The Christian Recorder, May 30, 1863.
Kahan, Michael. Pedestrian Matters: The Contested Meanings and Uses of Philadelphia’s Streets, 1850s-1920s. Dissertation. University of Pennsylvania. 2002.
Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York, NY: Bold Type Books, 2016.
Lapsansky, Emma Jones. “Friends, Wives, and Strivings: Networks and Community Values among Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia Afroamerican Elites.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 108, no. 1, 1984, pp. 3–24.
McShane, Clay, and Joel A. Tarr. The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2007.
Memorable Days: The Emilie Davis Diaries. Villanova University. Website. https://davisdiaries.villanova.edu/may_7-9_1863/
New National Era Newspaper:
“Color Prejudice.” New National Era, May 22, 1873.
“Interview with Caroline R. Le Count.” New National Era, May 33, 1873.
“Letter from Philadelphia.” New National Era, June 5, 1873
The North American, Philadelphia Newspaper:
“May the Teacher Whip the Child?” The North American, Philadelphia. July 1, 1899: 3.
“Pupil Sues Her Teacher.” The North American, Philadelphia. June 28, 1899: 3.
“Teachers Have No Right to Whip Their Pupils.” The North American, Philadelphia. June 29, 1899.
“Philadelphia Anniversary.” The New York Age. October 4, 1890: np.
The Philadelphia Community Education Plan: Excellent Schools For All Children. Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, 2016. Website: https://wearepcaps.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/pcaps-lo.pdf
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas No. 3, Vol. June 1899, Docket No. 268, pg. 133, Philadelphia City Archives.
Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court, Vol July-Aug 1867, Docket No. 209, pg. 257, Philadelphia City Archives.
“A Colored School Principal.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 25, 1891.
“Amicable Adjustment.” Philadelphia Inquirer. May 12, 1873.
“Another Branch.” Philadelphia Inquirer. April 5, 1873.
“Centennial.” Philadelphia Inquirer. April 14, 1873.
“Centennial.” Philadelphia Inquirer. May 23, 1873.
“Patriotic Women at Work.” Philadelphia Inquirer. April 21, 1873
“The Radical Club.” Philadelphia Inquirer. May 8, 1873.
“Radical Club.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 5, 1873.
“Women in the Centennial.” Philadelphia Inquirer. April 1, 1873.
“Women’s Centennial.” Philadelphia Inquirer. May 13, 1873.
“Quaker City Items.” The New York Globe. December 29, 1883
Rooks, Noliwe. Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation and the End of Public Education. New York: The New Press, 2017.
Speirs, Frederic W. The Street Railway System of Philadelphia: Its History and Present Condition. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1897.
Taylor, Frank H. Philadelphia in the Civil War 1861-1865. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, Reprint from 1913.
“The Ward: Race and Class in Du Bois’ Seventh Ward Walking Tour.” DuBois-The Ward. Website. http://www.dubois-theward.org/resources/walking-tour/
Warner, Sam Bass. The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth. Philadelphia, PA: University of Philadelphia Press, 1968.
Whitehead, Karsonya Wise. Notes from a Colored Girl: The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2014.
Wickersham, James Pyle. A History of Education in Pennsylvania. Lancaster, PA: Inquirer Publishing Company, 1886.
Woodson, Carter Goodwin. The Education of The Negro Prior To 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War. Washington, DC: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1919.
Woodson, Carter Goodwin. The Mis-Education of the Negro. 1933, Reprint by ClearWords.org, 2017.
Wright, Wittier H. “Life in Philadelphia.” The Statesman (Denver, Colorado). February 25, 1911: 2.
Zylstra, Geoff D. “Whiteness, Freedom, and Technology: The Racial Struggle over Philadelphia’s Streetcars, 1859—1867.” Technology and Culture, vol. 52, no. 4, 2011, pp. 678–702.