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Frederick Douglass Day 2023: Other 19th Century Black Women You Should Know

Harriet Tubman (ca. 1820-1913)

Known as the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman was enslaved, escaped, and helped others gain their freedom as a “conductor" of the Underground Railroad. Tubman also served as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. She is considered the first African American woman to serve in the military. 

Ellen Craft (1826-1891)

In 1848 William and Ellen Craft made one of the most daring and remarkable escapes in the history of slavery in America. With fair-skinned Ellen in the guise of a white male planter and William posing as her servant, the Crafts traveled by rail and ship--in plain sight and relative luxury--from bondage in Macon, Georgia, to freedom first in Philadelphia, then Boston, and ultimately England.  

Sojourner Truth (1791-1883)

A former slave, Sojourner Truth became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights in the nineteenth century. She never learned to read or write. In 1850, she dictated what would become her autobiography— The Narrative of Sojourner Truth—to Olive Gilbert, who assisted in its publication. In 1851, Truth began a lecture tour that included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. In it, she challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality by reminding listeners of her combined strength (Truth was nearly six feet tall) and female status. When the Civil War started, Truth urged young men to join the Union cause and organized supplies for black troops. Her Civil War work earned her an invitation to meet President Abraham Lincoln. While in Washington, DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid 1860s, when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding, she ensured his arrest and won her subsequent case. In the late 1860s, she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide former slaves with land, though Congress never took action. Nearly blind and deaf towards the end of her life, Truth spent her final years in Michigan.

Mary Prince (1788-1833)

The first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament.