Harriet Tubman: 1822 1913
Born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Harriet Tubman escaped and eventually gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian.
Working as a field hand while a young teen, Tubman was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown by an angry overseer at another fleeing slave. The severe injury left her suffering from headaches, seizures and sleeping spells that plagued her for the rest of her life. In 1848 Tubman decided to try and escape from her plantation. She tapped into an Underground Railroad that was already functioning well on the Eastern Shore: traveling by night, using the North Star and instructions from white and black helpers, she found her way to Philadelphia. She sought work as a domestic, saving her money to help the rest of her family escape. From 1850 to 1860, Tubman conducted between eleven and thirteen escape missions, bringing away approximately seventy individuals, including her brothers, parents, and other family and friends, while also giving instructions to approximately fifty more who found their way to freedom independently.
A supporter of John Brown and his insurrection at Harper's Ferry in 1859, she was so disappointed by its failure that she began an intensive speaking tour of the North. In her speeches she not only advocated an end to slavery but argued for women's suffrage. During the American Civil War Tubman worked as a nurse, scout and an intelligence agent for the Union Army. Tubman's former activities as a conductor on the Underground Railroad made her especially useful as a scout during the conflict. With the help of Sarah Bradford, she wrote her autobiography, Harriet Tubman, the Moses of Her People, (1869). With the royalties from the book and a small pension from the United States Army she purchased a house in Auburn, New York and turned it into a home for the aged and needy. She was active in the women's suffrage movement until illness overtook her and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African-Americans she had helped open years earlier. Harriet Tubman died in 1913.
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