Credit: Anchorage Museum, Bessie Couture Collection, B1987.2.44c
Portrait of Bessie Couture, late 19th to early 20th century
Bessie Couture was the first Black person to own a business in Alaska. Her first restaurant was called The Kitchen, which she ran during the Klondike Gold Rush between 1897 and 1900 in Skagway. Her second restaurant, co-owned with her husband, was the Broadway Restaurant and Bakery, also in Skagway, which served customers in the 1920s.
Despite her remarkable achievements, there is not much information in the historical record about Bessie Couture. A letter from the donor of these archival images, as well as a marriage license housed in the University of Alaska Anchorage/Alaska Pacific University Consortium Library provide some clues that help shed light on her story. We know that she married Frenchman William Couture in 1920, and they both lived in Skagway working as cooks. We also know that she was twice married prior to William. The first marriage ended in divorce, and the second marriage, to a man named Kendall, ended in tragedy with his death in the shipwreck of The Princess Sophia in 1918.