because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, April 30, 2012

Laura Smith Haviland

Laura Smith Haviland, not only established schools where Black and White children studied together in the 1830's and ran a principle stop on the Underground Railroad, but she made one Southern plantation owner so crazy that he wrote her a letter, calling her "a rogue, a damnable thief, a Negro thief, an out-breaker, a criminal in the sight of all honest men" who he was sure would eventually wind up in "the inner temple of hell." She responded with such strong words of her own that he was prompted to distribute flyers describing her, giving her address, and offering a $3000 bounty to anyone who could kidnap or even murder her.

When the Fugitive Slave Law was enacted, she could have gone to prison for her abolitionist work. Nevertheless, Haviland went into the South again and again, appearing at plantations in the guise of a cook or a light-skinned free woman of color to spirit away willing souls to the North and on to Canada.

After the Civil War, Haviland became a one-woman cyclone of activity, organizing refugee camps and establishing schools, volunteering as a teacher and a nurse, and giving public lectures during which she displayed instruments of torture used by slave holders to torment those they had held in bondage.

The famed abolitionist and women's rights speaker Isabella Baumfree (who took the name "Sojourner Truth") told a story about trying to climb onto a street car with Laura Haviland once. The conductor told Baumfree to leave the car, but Haviland took her other arm and told him to let her ride. "Does she belong to you?" the conductor asked. "No," replied Haviland firmly, "She belongs to humanity." In-your-face women ride what they want to ride when they want to ride it. In pairs, if they like.

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