The Smithsonian Just Revealed The Earliest Known Photo Of Harriet Tubman

March 29, 2019  |  

Harriet Tubman, American anti-slavery activist, c1913.

Source: Print Collector / Getty

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has given us a deeper glimpse into one of our sheroes, by uncovering a never-before-seen photo of Harriet Tubman as a young woman.

“Suddenly, there was a picture of Harriet Tubman as a young woman, and as soon as I saw it I was stunned,” said the museum’s founding director Lonnie Bunch, as he described the first time his eyes laid upon the powerful photo. Bunch extensively discussed the history behind the photo in an interview with the

In the photograph Tubman is shown with a stoic face, with her hair pulled back to expose her somber eyes. Her arm is draped across the chair, as she gazes into the photographer’s lens. The picture is a stark contrast to the images we’ve come to know of Tubman which show her as an older woman, still strong, but wearied from the work of ushering thousands of slaves to freedom.

“All of us had only seen images of her at the end of her life. She seemed frail. She seemed bent over, and it was hard to reconcile the images of Moses (one of Tubman’s nicknames) leading people to freedom,” Bunch said.

Bunch believes the photo was taken of Tubman when she was in her early 40’s, sometime around 1868 or 1869. The photo was kept in an album which belonged to abolitionist Emily Howland. Tubman’s image is one of 49 images from Howland’s family album, and will be displayed in the museum’s Heritage Hall until March 31. After that time it will be moved to reside in the museum’s  “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition located inside of the in the museum’s History Gallery, according to The Washington Informer.

Tubman was the pivotal conductor of the Underground Railroad and also served as a spy, nurse and cook for the Union during the Civil War. She used her will, mind and physicality to free her brothers and sisters held in captivity and later became a pillar for the abolitionist movement and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She died on March 10, 1913, at the age of 91.

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