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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Harriet Tubman

b. circa 1820, Dorchester County, Maryland; d. 1913, Auburn, New York

Harriet Tubman’s legacy lives on today in the relatives of the 200-plus slaves that she led to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, she worked as a field hand, maid, cook, and woodcutter before escaping to Philadelphia in 1849. There she learned the workings of the Underground Railroad through the local Anti-Slavery Society. In December 1850, she made the first of nineteen forays into Maryland, conducting slaves along the Railroad to Canada; slaveowners offered up to $40,000 reward for her capture. Her tenacity, discipline, and courage became legendary—John Brown referred to her as General Tubman—and as her fame spread, she made appearances at abolitionist rallies, joining forces with Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. About 1858, she purchased a farm in Auburn, New York, where she settled her parents (whom she had freed the year before). During the Civil War, she served in the Union Army as a nurse and gathered military intelligence. After the war, she settled in Auburn, lending her considerable prestige to the women’s rights movement—she was a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women (1896)—and establishing a home for indigent and elderly ex-slaves. Her biography, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, was published in 1869.