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Isabel Powell

Isabel Washington Powell was born in Savannah, Georgia, May 23, 1908, one of five children born to Hattie Washington, a dancer, and Robert T. Washington, a postal worker. At a young age, Powell was sent to a Catholic boarding school run by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania. After finishing her formal education, Powell moved to New York City and followed in the footsteps of an older sister, Fredi Washington, to become a dancer and actress. Powell performed as a showgirl in the nightclubs of Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance before dancing, singing, and acting in three Broadway shows in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In 1934, Powell married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and assisted him in his election to the New York Council and as senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In 1944, Powell helped her husband become the first African American elected to the United States Congress from the east coast. In 1945, the Powells’ marriage ended in divorce. Powell went on to serve as a teacher’s aide in New York’s Harlem community public schools for over thirty years.

From 1945 on, Powell had a significant social and community presence on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; she was noted for bringing together people of various races, ages, classes, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Powell was also recognized for promoting the political legacy of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Powell was the mother of one son, Preston Powell. Powell passed away on May 1, 2007, just shy of her ninety-ninth birthday.

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Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

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Martha's Vineyard



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Dancer and teacher's aide Isabel Powell (1908 - 2007 ) was a dancer in Harlem night clubs during the Harlem Renaissance, in addition to acting, singing, and dancing in several Broadway productions. Later in her career, Powell was active in community life on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, serving as a social mover and shaker.


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Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Isabel Powell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Isabel Powell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Isabel Powell describes her career in performance

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Isabel Powell remembers her parents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Isabel Powell describes her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Isabel Powell describes her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Isabel Powell remembers growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Isabel Powell describes her paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Isabel Powell remembers Habersham Street in Savannah, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Isabel Powell remembers attending Sisters of the Blessed Sacrement in Bensalem, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Isabel Powell recalls moving to New York City when she was seventeen

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Isabel Powell remembers meeting Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Isabel Powell remembers meeting and marrying Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Isabel Powell recalls spending summers in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Isabel Powell remembers how she met Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Isabel Powell describes her favorite activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Isabel Powell describes her family

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Isabel Powell talks about her sister, Fredi Washington

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Isabel Powell describes significant items at her home in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Isabel Powell reflects upon her old age

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Isabel Powell reflects upon her life

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Isabel Powell recalls meeting President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Isabel Powell remembers her visit from Joseph Carter

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Isabel Powell talks about her hobbies

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Isabel Powell talks about the importance of love

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Isabel Powell describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Isabel Powell shares her famous Bloody Mary recipe

Tape: 2 Story: 16 - Isabel Powell narrates her photographs