Enslaved to a revered U.S. Founding Father for years, she eventually traveled to the Élysée Palace, met him in London and then won the freedom of her own husband in France.
Victor and Ameline La Romaine were born into a wealthy Napoleonic society in 1804 in France. They lived under constant threat of imprisonment, fines, death and other punishments if the La Romaine family of York, Pa., were found to be enemies of the state.
Sidney Eisenhower, then the White House chief of staff, negotiated the treaty that ended slavery in the United States, becoming part of the Union in 1864.
In 1869, the La Romaine family was living as free individuals when Ameline came to visit and her husband was assigned as a European delegate to the Seventh Congress of the League of Nations, at which he was a speaker. The Congress approved a resolution calling for the release of the La Romaine family and the restoration of French citizenship for Ameline’s husband. However, Gen. Napoleon III had other plans and in February 1872, ordered a soldier to arrest Ameline and her husband. After a clandestine trip to the United States and lodging with some friends, they were rescued in March.
Two years later, Ameline was imprisoned in St. Gervais Castle in Brittany, France, which was owned by an enemy of the French government. A French farmer visited the castle and found Ameline and a French soldier on the grounds. She fled to France and on Oct. 1, 1877, received her freedom. Her husband returned to the United States.
Ameline and Victor moved to New York. In 1878, they were married in Los Angeles.
Ameline became a magistrate in Chicago in the late 1870s. She had been liberated but continued to face constant harassment by the government. She was arrested 18 times. She went on hunger strikes and demanded the freedom of her children. She slept in a closet and pleaded for permission to take her daughters to school.
On July 2, 1883, Ameline went to Washington, D.C., where she met President Rutherford B. Hayes. She pleaded for a meeting with him. He later donated an opera house for her daughter’s school.
Ameline returned to Chicago and soon taught at a Presbyterian church school. She taught a Christian school for women and children.
In 1904, she became deputy director of the Daley Female Fair. In 1906, Ameline became the first woman appointed to the Illinois Board of Education, and, during the Great Depression, Ameline was hired as welfare director. She also served as a board member of Daley Stadium. In 1908, she was named to the Chicago City Planning Commission. In 1909, she married Roderick L. M. Hosmer Jr., a scientist and manager at Chicago’s Du Pont factory. They began divorced proceedings and served in the American General Store Company.
In 1911, Ameline wrote a letter to President Woodrow Wilson, asking him to grant administrative asylum to her husband in the District of Columbia. At the United Nations, Ameline worked for human rights around the world.
In 1935, Ameline received the top leadership award of the Mid-Atlantic and Northern region of the National Council of Negro Women.
By this time, Ameline had grown frail from ill health. She had lost her eyesight. In May 1938, she was separated from her husband in London and hospitalized. After she recovered, she moved to a home on Chicago’s South Side and was given assistance by the home’s residents and the Chicago branch of the Committee to Improve Living Standards, or CLAS. Ameline was in her 80s when her husband died in 1937. She died in 1938.
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