Early life and education
Elizabeth Carter (Brooks) was an educator, architect, philanthropist and real estate developer. She was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts to freed slaves. Her mother, Martha Webb was a manumitted slave from a plantation owned by president William Harrison Tyler.
After attending high school, Elizabeth went on to attend the Harrington Normal Training School and the Swain Free School. The Swain Free School taught the fundamentals of design and the practical application of design principles. Elizabeth was able to attend the school despite her race and gender due to the overall acceptance of blacks in New Bedford.
Elizabeth was dedicated to racial equality by providing African Americans with opportunities in social welfare. While in Brooklyn she became an active member of the Women’s Loyal Union, a Brooklyn organization of prominent African American women committed to teaching and “race uplift” efforts.
Around 1900, Elizabeth returned to New Bedford and became the first black teacher at the William H Taylor school. She taught there for over 29 years.
Career in Architecture
Elizabeth’s childhood dream of providing a home for elderly was realized in 1897 with the opening of the New Bedford Home for the Aged. After a few temporary locations, Elizabeth designed a permanent location in 1908. The home was built by Henry W and Benjamin Tripp, contractors.
In 1918, Elizabeth was asked by the War Council of the Young Women’s Christian Association to supervise the construction of the Phyllis Wheatley Young Women’s Christian Association in Washington, DC, designed by Shroeder and Parish Architects. The building was for Black women and girls and was completed in 1920.
In 1934, Elizabeth purchased the Sergeant Elliam H. Carney house on behalf of the Martha Briggs Educational Club. Carney was enlisted in the all black 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War and fought in the battle at Fort Wagner. The home had become a shrine to Black Union troops who fought in the Civil War. Elizabeth understood the significance of the home to race history in the country and knew that it needed to be preserved.
Elizabeth not only designed institutions for the betterment of black people but she was also involved in some of the earliest attempts to preserve historic Black sites.
Major Buildings and Projects
- New Bedford Home for the Aged – The home, which still stands today is Colonial in style, is 2.5 stories, topped with a hip roof. There are 6 dormers, the front façade features a flat roofed portico and balustrade supported by four Doric columns. The home is clad with clapboard and rests on a sturdily built granite block foundation.