Born to a Baltimore family on August 25, 1860, Henrietta Vinton Davis would enter the entertainment business in the 1880s. She would become one of the most renown Black stage actresses and later a powerful force in the UNIA’s Caribbean expansion.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Her father Mansfeld Vinton was a musician who passed not long after her birth. It would be under a year before her mother Mary Ann Johnson married George A. Hackett. He rose to prominence among the Black community after fighting to defeat an 1859 bill that would see the children of free Blacks enslaved and their parents deported from the state.
Henrietta Vinton Davis would move to Washington D.C in 1870, following the death of Hackett. Here she would finish up her education and receive certification to teach in Maryland. Davis would head off to Louisiana for a time to teach public school. She would return to teach in Maryland and to care for mother in her final years.
It would also be at this time that she would become the first Black woman employed by the Office of Recorder of Deeds in 1878. Her role was as a copyist under Recorder of Deeds George A. Sheridan. Following her work as a copyist, she would pursue public speaking and drama under Miss Marguerite Saxon.
Through this path, Davis would meet Frederick Douglass and other important people of the time. It would also lead to her speaking before crowds throughout the east coast during the 1880s. Her work on stage would keep her busy into the 1890s when she founded her own theater company in 1893. Based in Chicago, the troupe would perform in the same markets but also brought popular stage works to the Caribbean.
At the dawn of the 20th century, she would become involved with the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League and devote her time and influence to its cause.