Today is Harriet Tubman Day, where we honor anti-slavery activist and abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Tubman is most widely known for leading enslaved people north on the Underground Railroad, but her contributions to abolition and equality don’t stop there. She served as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and fiercely advocated for women’s voting rights in her later years.
Born into slavery in the 1820s, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. She soon returned to the south and became a conductor” on the Underground Railroad – a network of antislavery activists and safe houses – where she personally led approximately 70 enslaved people to freedom.
At the start of the Civil War, Tubman was recruited to assist former enslaved people as they escaped to Union camps. Initially a nurse, Tubman soon became the head of an espionage and scout network for the Union Army, mapping out enemy terrain and providing key intelligence to Union officials. In 1863, Tubman led the Combahee River Raid, where more than 750 enslaved people were rescued. She continued working for the Union Army until the Confederacy surrendered in 1865, assisting newly liberated people, scouting for the Union Army, and aiding wounded soldiers.
In the late 1890s, Tubman went on to work alongside women’s suffragists to promote women’s voting rights. She traveled throughout the Eastern US, speaking of her experiences in and after the Civil War, and citing her own experiences as well as those of many other women to further the suffragist movement.
Tubman is a key figure in American history who continues to inspire generations of activists and political figures today. Not only was she instrumental in liberating many formerly enslaved people, but she contributed to the Union victory, and advocated for equality to create a more just nation. Tubman will soon be featured on the $20 bill, with President Biden pledging to speed up the design process and cement Tubman’s legacy further.