A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life

By Eliza Potter, Edited by Xiomara Santamarina

Edited and with an Introduction by Xiomara Santamarina

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 illus., appends., notes, bibl.

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5982-7
    Published: November 2009
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9866-6
    Published: November 2009

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Here is the first fully annotated edition of a landmark in early African American literature--Eliza Potter's 1859 autobiography, A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life. Potter was a freeborn black woman who, as a hairdresser, was in a unique position to hear about, receive confidences from, and observe wealthy white women--and she recorded it all in a revelatory book that delighted Cincinnati's gossip columnists at the time. But more important is Potter's portrait of herself as a wage-earning woman, proud of her work, who earned high pay and accumulated quite a bit of money as one of the nation's earliest "beauticians" at a time when most black women worked at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Because her work offered insights into the private lives of elite white women, Potter carved out a literary space that featured a black working woman at the center, rather than at the margins, of the era's transformations in gender, race, and class structure. Xiomara Santamarina provides an insightful introduction to this edition that includes newly discovered information about Potter, discusses the author's strong satirical voice and proud working-class status, and places the narrative in the context of nineteenth-century literature and history.

About the Authors

Eliza Potter (born 1820) was an African-American hairdresser in Cincinnati, Ohio.
For more information about Eliza Potter, visit the Author Page.

Xiomara Santamarina is associate professor of English at the University of Michigan. She is author of Belabored Professions: Autobiography and Black Women's Labor (UNC Press) and several essays on early African American literature.
For more information about Xiomara Santamarina, visit the Author Page.


"Insightful. . . . Santamarina's editorial work recovers Potter's autobiography and uncovers assumptions about the world from which that text arose."--Choice

"This expert edition brings Eliza Potter and her intriguingly unconventional and controversial text into focus in ways that allow us to appreciate more fully than ever before the daring originality of the author's enterprise. This is a must read for anyone interested in the development of African American literature in the nineteenth century."--William L. Andrews, editor of The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature: An Anthology