by Len Lear
It is unlikely that you ever heard of Caroline Le Count; not many people have. But she is definitely deserving of much more recognition and acclaim that she has received. A teacher in Frankford, Le Count (1846-1923) was Philadelphia’s Rosa Parks, a teacher and civil rights activist 100 years before the Montgomery bus boycott, defiantly riding street cars and filing petitions to have a law against black riders repealed.
With her fiancé Octavius Catto, who was assassinated later in 1871, she kept up the fight even after the law was changed: When a conductor refused to stop for her, Le Count — just 21 at the time — courageously filed a complaint with the police, eventually forcing the driver to pay a $100 fine; remarkable for that time!
She also pushed for the rights of African-American teachers and students, standing up to the school board of the Wilmot Colored School to insist that a black colleague become principal because “colored children should be taught by their own,” according to news reports from that period.
Now you will be able to learn about this fascinating Philadelphia pioneer at the Ebenezer Maxwell Victorian Mansion, 200 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown, thanks to Lori Aument, creator of the “Found in Philadelphia” podcast, starting with a cocktail hour on Thursday, June 25, 5 p.m., for a live ZOOM Q and A with Aument.
Aument, 45, a native of rural Lancaster County, earned a B.S. in Art History from Connecticut College in 1996 and an M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999.
Before starting her own building conservation consulting business, L.R. Aument LLC, in 2012, she worked for the firm of John Milner Associates for over 12 years. When that office closed during the recession, Lori “started several different projects that gave me flexibility to continue my career while raising my kids, including starting my own business.”
For the past eight years, Lori has worked to preserve numerous buildings and historic sites such as a federal courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, which is part of a National Historic Landmark Civil Rights thematic nomination; Morris Arboretum, Bartram’s Mile and community design projects at Gloria Dei Church, Plays and Players Theater and along the business corridors in the Tioga and West Kensington neighborhoods.
How does Aument feel Philadelphia rates, compared to other big cities, in terms of preserving historic buildings?
“I fear that Philadelphia is fairly passive about identifying and protecting its history. The city seems to have favored and fast-tracked approvals for developers. Smaller organizations and homeowners often feel that the Historical Commission is harder on them. I don’t see the city using preservation as a tool for celebrating place and supporting community pride.”
Why will Lori be doing the presentation on Caroline Le Count since it does not seem to have a connection with her business? “I feel like the ‘Found in Philadelphia’ podcast is intimately connected to my business. I wanted to start the podcast to advocate for the city’s built heritage by telling compelling stories that help people see their value. I wanted people to see themselves in these stories. Fundamentally, historic preservation is about believing that our history has value, that it’s a common good worth protecting. But the broader community needs to see themselves in that history for preservation to be seen as a worthwhile endeavor.”
Why isn’t Caroline Le Count much more well known? I do not recall ever reading about her in school, although I did read a great deal about Octavius Catto. “I don’t think we can discount the fact that Le Count was a black woman,” said Aument. “They were rarely given center stage in her day. And when she was recorded as speaking, it was rare for her to be quoted in newspaper articles.
“Also, Le Count never achieved national prominence like some other Philadelphians like Fanny Jackson Coppin or Dr. Rebecca Cole. When black women were organizing nationally in the 1880s, such as the National Association of Colored Women, Le Count doesn’t appear to have been involved. I’ve got some ideas about that in an upcoming episode.”
When asked what was the best advice Aument has ever received, she replied, “Spend money on good shoes and socks; it’s worth it.”
For more on Lori’s podcasts: https://foundinphiladelphia.com/episodes/ Call 215-438-1861 for reservations or details to the June 25 event. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com