Olivia A. Davidson
Olivia America Davidson Washington, was a co-founder of the Tuskegee Institute and the wife of Booker T. Washington. She was born on June 11, 1854 in Mercer County, Virginia, now Mercer County, West Virginia. She died May 9, 1889.
Mrs. Washington's family fled Virginia because of the treatment of free blacks and went to Ironton, Ohio. At some time during her childhood, she lived her sister Mary's family in Gallipolis, Ohio. Her sister, a dressmaker and millineer, relocated several times before going to Columbus, Ohio. She began teaching at age sixteen.
In 1874, she became a sixth-grade teacher in a new school in Memphis, Tennessee, where her sister Margaret was also a teacher and where her brother Joseph lived. There, her principal instituted changes that she had recommended. In 1878, she returned to Ohio after the murder of her brother by the Ku Klux Klan and the death of her sister. That year she enrolled as a senior at Hampton Institute. She was one of the graduation speakers on May 22, 1879. From there, she attended the State Normal School at Framingham, Massachusetts, graduating June 29, 1881 as one of six honor students.
Mrs. Washington then returned to Hampton to rest, recover from a serious illness, and to teach. Booker T. Washington, who had been the postgraduate speaker at Hampton, contacted her and asked her to help him open Tuskegee. After recovering from her illness, she joined him on August 25, 1881. She threw herself into the work and labored unceasingly despite precarious health, becoming Booker T.'s partner in building Tuskegee. On August 11, 1886, she married Booker T. Washington, two years after the death of his first wife, Fannie N. Smith. Their first son, Booker, Jr., was born May 29, 1887. Their second son, Ernest Davidson, was born February 6, 1889. Two days later, their house burned down, and she suffered exposure to the early morning cold. Her health deteriorated further, and she died of laryngeal tuberculosis on May 9, 1889, at Massachusetts General Hospital.
- "Olivia Davidson Washington." Notable Black American Women, Book 1. Gale Research, 1992.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2008. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC Document Number: K1623000473