Hannah Elias (1863 -????)
- Hannah Elias was once considered the richest Black woman in America.
- Many were shocked to learn she was African-American, as Black folks sitting on that amount of cash was just unheard of at the time.
- Elias wasn’t always wealthy, however. She was born in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia to a Black mixed race couple with nine children.
- In 1905, Senator John R. Platt accused the “negro enchantress” of blackmailing him out of $685,385 and sued her for it. The two were in a secret relationship and it is said that Platt had given her large sums of money in the past.
- Elias was unafraid and hired her own lawyer to beat the case. She took the stand to plead her case before the court — and won. Not bad for a Black woman with little education.
- In all, her properties and goods were valued at approximately $1M.
- Elias went on to own four midtown properties, along with a palatial Central Park West mansion. She passed as white, however, and is said to not have allowed Black people in her home, for fear her cover would be blown.
- It’s also rumored that she underwent one of the earliest plastic surgeries to keep her secret hidden. However, articles at the time said she went out when darkness fell to mingle with her Black friends, including her lover, and allegedly provided them with money.
- The young woman was living in the lap of luxury without a care in the world until her Black lover shot and killed a rich white man in front of her home, thinking it was Platt.
- Little else was known about Elias after the failed attempt to murder Platt.
Hannah Elias is part of our Black success series for Black History Month.