Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is known for helping enslaved Black Americans escape to freedom. But she did so much more. She helped the Union army during the Civil War, She fought for voting rights for women, and she cared for the elderly.

Harriet Tubman was born on a farm in Dorchester County, Maryland around 1822. People born into slavery did not get birth certificates, so she never knew her birthday. When you are enslaved, you are forced to work at a young age. Harriet started working on the farm when she was about six years old. If there was no work for her on the farm where she was enslaved, she was rented out to work on other farms.

Harriet was held in slavery on the same farm as most of her family. One of her sisters was sold to a farm far away. When Harriet learned that she might be sold also, she ran away. Harriet had been told about the secret places and people that were part of the Underground Railroad. She used that information to make her way to freedom.

Harriet hid during the day and only travelled after dark. People who were part of the Underground Railroad helped her. Each person who helped her gave her the name of the next person to help her until she reached freedom.

After escaping from slavery Harriet worked and saved her money so she could help her family and others escape. She became a conductor on the Underground Railroad and spent ten years leading enslaved people to freedom.

During the Civil War Harriet worked with the Union Army as a nurse, cook, scout and spy. In 1863 she led Union soldiers on a raid of plantations along the Combahee River in Beaufort, South Carolina. During the raid seven hundred Black men, women and children were freed. Harriet was the first woman in the United States to lead a military operation.

After the war Harriet returned to her home in Auburn, New York where she got involved in the suffrage movement and fought for voting rights for women.

Harriet also cared for the elderly. In 1896 she purchased land near her home to create the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged.

Harriet stayed in Auburn for the remainder of her life. She died there in 1913.

Harriet was a great woman. People have celebrated her life by naming parks, roads, and museums after her. The United State Post Office has created two stamps to honor her.

Elizabeth Keckley

Elizabeth KeckleyElizabeth Keckley was born into slavery in 1818 in Dinwiddie, Virginia. She was sent out to work by her enslaver to make money for his family. She worked as a seamstress and soon had several prominent customers, several of whom loaned her money so she could purchase her freedom.

Keckley moved to Washington, DC in 1860 where she opened a successful dressmaking business. At one point she had 20 female employees in the business.

Keckley was highly sought after by the Washington elite and was soon the dressmaker for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. She and Mrs. Lincoln bonded and became friends and traveling companions.

In 1862, with the help of her church, Keckley established the Contraband Relief Organization to help newly freed slaves in the Washington DC area. She was the organization’s first president and her connection to Mrs. Lincoln helped her find needed financial support.

She published her diaries, “Behind the Scenes or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House” in 1868. The book, which was somewhat of a tell-all, was condemned by blacks and whites. It also brought an end to the Keckley-Lincoln friendship. Even though her business was affected she was able to maintain some customers as well support other African American women by training them to be dressmakers.

In 1892 Keckley moved to Ohio to take the position of Head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University. After her employment at Wilberforce, she returned to Washington DC where she died in 1907.

One of the dresses, believed to have been made by Elizabeth Keckley for Mary Todd Lincoln, is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.