Harriet Tubman. Never had I ever heard of her before I started researching for my Influential Women series, and I’m unsurprised. See, when looking up women, I don’t just type in “list of women” and pick a few interesting ones. Instead, I pick a topic in history of which I know women were left unmentioned, and see if I can dig something up. This week: America in the 19th century. Doesn’t ring a bell? Let me rephrase: the abolition of slavery.
When I was taught about slavery in secondary school, if it was mentioned at all (let’s focus on how many soldiers died during the Civil War!!!), I was mostly told about the practical stuff: that people were forcibly taken away from their home country, to work for “little” (but mostly no) money (at all) on cotton farms in North America (make sure to leave out Europe here!). We were taught that they were treated badly, but how badly the teacher did not care to specify. What they did care to specify was that there were quite a few white slave owners that did treat their slaves well, though! (Aren’t they the real unsung heroes!!!)
Well, no. Let me take you to the 1840s-1850s, Maryland. A girl is born a slave near the eastern shore and named Araminta Ross (no, I did not get the title of the post wrong). She suffered a horrible childhood: she was forced to work extremely long days on the field and she was roughly beaten up the second she slowed down to catch a breath. Eventually, Araminta – she was married by then, and was known as Harriet Tubman – made an extremely difficult decision: she was going to leave her family behind and run away, in the hopes of finding freedom. She found much more than that.
No, Araminta did not go on to live a quiet life in the North. Instead, while having a bounty on her head that in the end went up to forty thousand dollars, she went back to the South NINETEEN times, not only to help her family escape, but also to help countless of other slaves find their way to freedom. Araminta did not play games: she was known for saying she could count on two things, namely her faith in God, and, well, her gun. She made it utterly clear that she would not hesitate to shoot anyone who showed any signs of possible betrayal. Her strength and fearless courage saved the lives of hundreds.
You think she’d have had enough of danger after those nineteen trips back to the South, but you’re wrong: when the Civil War broke out, Araminta started working as a nurse. “Pretty regular job during a war?” you say? Well, get this: not only was she a nurse, but she also worked as an active spy for the Union. A SPY, PEOPLE. As leader of a corps of spies, she snuck uncaught into rebel territory several times to gather information, all the while still nursing the sick and the wounded coming back from battles, for three years in a row. (And, fyi, for all this she was only paid 200 dollars over the course of three years, so on top of being a nurse and, I don’t know, a frigging SPY, she still had to sell fruit and beer to provide for herself.)
When slavery was officially abolished after the war, Araminta, today known everywhere as Harriet Tubman, continued to help former slaves forge their new lives. She suffered financial problems until the end of her days, but that did not stop her from taking dozens of elder freed slaves into her house and nursing them in such a way that they were able to live as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. In March 1913, Harriet passed away of pneumonia in an elderly home that was named after her, in honour of her career as a nurse.
Of all the women I’ve written about so far, Araminta Ross/Harriet Tubman is probably one of my favourites. Excuse the language (and the extremely long post) but she was a woman who took no shit from anyone, and (literally) fought for what she believed in. She saved so many lives, and during and after the Civil War nursed so many more. She, my friends, is a role model you should tell children about. It’s time we talked about the real heroes.
- L. Parole