Last week, Prints and Photographs Division staff had an opportunity to participate in Washington, D.C.’s first annual celebration of Harriet Tubman Day, which represented several very satisfying convergences.
The official Harriet Tubman Day is March 10th, the date of Tubman’s death (the date of her birth is not known). The celebration was held March 8th at the historic Charles Sumner School building in Washington, D.C. The celebration was timed perfectly for our staff to join in by introducing attendees to a previously unrecorded portrait of Harriet Tubman that had just become available online.
The portrait is in a photo album that belonged to Emily Howland, a lifelong advocate of freedmen’s schools and women’s rights. The Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture partnered to acquire the album at auction last year and to conserve, catalog, and make it available to the public.
Harriet Tubman is in very good company in the album. The other 47 photographs include portraits of abolitionists, suffragists, teachers, and statesmen. In fact, in another satisfying convergence, the first image in the album shows Charles Sumner, the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts whose leadership in the fight for the abolition of slavery and the establishment of equal rights for African Americans is commemorated in the name of the very building in which we were celebrating.
In addition to offering a display of facsimiles from the album, Mary Mundy, Prints and Photographs Division cataloger, offered brief remarks at the celebration, reflecting on her experience collaborating with a cataloger from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in describing the album and its contents:
I enjoyed working closely with each picture, researching the people depicted and the album’s original owner Emily Howland. I learned that Howland was a Quaker, abolitionist and teacher. And, she lived only about 15 miles from Tubman’s home in Auburn, New York. We know from Howland’s diaries and other documents that the two women were friends and that Tubman visited Howland’s home on several occasions.
I also discovered that Tubman and Howland had a lot in common. They each provided assistance to freedmen during the Civil War and later dedicated their lives to help educate and provide social support to freed people after emancipation.
Of course, the availability of the album began with a wonderful convergence: The album came up for auction in 2017. Through a groundbreaking partnership, the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African American History and Culture were able to submit the winning bid by pooling funds to ensure that this remarkable gathering of American portraits would be accessible to the public in perpetuity. The public will have a chance to view the rare album for the first time in person at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in a special exhibit later this year. The digital images also will be presented through the museum’s website.
As Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has noted “Now people in our nation’s capital and around the world can see these important figures from American history and learn more about their lives …We are proud this historic collaboration with the Smithsonian has made these pictures of history available to the public online.”
- Page through the Howland album. All of the images are also featured in the Library’s Flickr account, where Flickr members can leave reflections about the images and the people they depict. The photos are also being featured in the Library’s Facebook account.
- Read about the conservation of the newly acquired album, “Library Conserves, Digitizes Rare Photographs Including Harriet Tubman Portrait” and watch a video that discusses the work that was done: Conservation of the Emily Howland Album
- Read the proclamation that established Harriet Tubman Day in 1990, available through the University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project ™.
- View images of the Charles Sumner School, and learn more about the landmark, which now houses a museum and archive for the DC public school records and artifacts.
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