Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Harriet Shadd, 1883-1967
(Harriet Park Shadd-Butcher)


By Barbara Anita Williams
AeroAstro & Physics Librarian
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Harriet Park Shadd was born on October 31, 1883 into a family of multicultural African Americans who had been free for multiple generations. Her father, Jeremiah Furman Shadd, was a Washington physician and educator at Howard University Medical School. Harriet's mother, Alice Parke Shadd, taught in the Washington public school system. Harriet had one brother and one sister. She eventually followed in her parents footsteps by becoming a teacher.

In one of her writings Harriet wrote that when she looked in the mirror, she saw a white woman, as did the rest of the world not privy to her DNA makeup. However, Harriet chose to acknowledge her black ancestry through her associations and life style even though she knew it would limit her work and life opportunities in a racist America. On April 13, 1918, Harriet married Robert Elmer Butcher, who was also an African American who could pass for white. Their marriage ended in divorce when Robert found a white woman that accepted his genetic makeup. Ironically, Harriet could not bring herself to hate Robert as she saw him as a victim of America's distorted race identity.

In 1905, Harriet graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After teaching history at Howard University from 1905-06, she began her 17+ years as a history teacher at M Street High School (Dunbar after 1916) in Washington D.C., from 1906 until 1923. While teaching at M Street High School, she participated in the March 1913 suffrage parade on the eve of Woodrow Wilson's first inauguration.

Her teaching was enhanced by several trips she had taken to Europe before World War I. Excellent teachers were a hallmark of the M Street High School faculty. Harriet was listed as one of the "talented tenth" teachers at the M Street High School. Later, she attended Harvard Graduate School of Education, and from 1922-23 served for one-year as M Street's Instructor in Business Organization.

Over a three-year period, Harriet went from consistently being rated as an "excellent" teacher, to a "very good" teacher, to just a "good" teacher. Fearing the loss of her job she took steps to secure her retirement benefits. In trying to promote several of her innovative teaching ideas Harriet found favor with the superintendent of the school but not with the principal responsible for evaluating her work. Tragically the principal thought Harriet meant to circumvent him to get her program ideas approved. It never occurred to Harriet to use the influential resources she had at her disposal to intervene on her behalf. Her naivete in the

belief that good ideas always triumph ended up being Harriet's biggest regret, which was surprising because she was so savvy in so many ways.

Upon retiring as a high school teacher Harriet accepted a position with the National Urban League as Extension Secretary working out of the New York office. Her responsibilities required her to conduct an educational campaign in connection with the League's activities, for the purpose of "improving living and working conditions of Negroes in Northern cities." This work was to be accomplished through personal interviews, and speaking at conferences and public meetings. This was a fund raising position, which suited Harriet's engaging personality. However, since she was not able to raise a lot of money the job only lasted 132 days.

After leaving the Urban League, Harriet took a job as the Superintendent at Russell Sage Foundation in New York City. Jet magazine hailed her as "the Washington socialite who startled this man's world by being the successful superintendent of New York's famous Russell Sage Foundation." With her new found connections she was able to help her friend Roscoe Conkling Bruce, the son of Mississippi's first Black U.S Senator, Blanche Bruce, obtain a job as resident manager of the Dunbar Apartments, which was financed by John D. Rockefeller. In 1929 Harriet won a public lawsuit against Roscoe Conkling Bruce, for failure to repay a several thousand dollar loan.

Harriet's lawsuit and association with Roscoe would eventually land her in Lawrence Otis Graham's book, The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty. Harriet was a complex woman who frequently traveled internationally. She owned and operated an Interior decorating business, as a white woman at the insistence of her friends who knew orders would dwindle if her customers leaned she was of mixed blood. Yet, throughout her life Harriet attempted to live her life as authentically as possible. Mrs. Harriet Park Shadd Butcher died on May 15, 1967 in Washington, D.C.

Sources:

"Butcher, Harriett Shadd, Manuscript." (2018). Manuscripts, Publications and Other Written Work. 7. Web address: https://dh.howard.edu/og_manusripts/7

Butcher, Harriet Shadd, "Housing in Harlem," Smith Alumnae Quarterly (August 1942), 231-32.

Graham, Lawrence Otis. The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynastyy. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Harvard University. The Harvard University Catalogue: Official register of Harvard University, University, 1923.

Hendrick, George, and Willene Hendrick. Black Refugees in Canada: Accounts of Escape During the Era of Slavery. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2010. Print.

Jet Magazine. Travelogue. Vol. 3, No. 23, Apr 16, 1953, Page 44. Web address:
https://books.google.com/books?id=v7sDAAAAMBAJ

"Mrs. Butcher Named Urban League Officer." The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C.] 1924: 9. Web.

Rayford W. Logan. Howard University: The first hundred years, 1867-1967. New York: New York University Press 1969.

Robinson, Henry S. "The M Street High School, 1891-1916." Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., vol. 51, 1984, pp. 119–143. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40067848.

"United States Social Security Death Index," database, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JBWX-4TL : 20 May 2014), Harriet S Butcher, 15 May 1967; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database
(Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).

"Harriet Shadd Butcher with Nat. Urban League as Extension Secretary," New York Age, 20 Dec. 1924, p. 3.

 

Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about

 

Related Works in DuBois Online Correspondence: 6

 

 

Back to List of Black Woman Suffragists
back to top