A Woman's Life Work: Including Thirty Years' Service on the Underground Railroad and in the War
Canadian-born Laura Haviland (1808-1898) was an evangelically-minded Quaker and later (for a time) a Wesleyan Methodist, active in education and social justice issues throughout her life. A Woman's Life Work is, above all, a religious autobiography chronicling her conversion experience and her desire to express faith through benevolent social action. She was brought up in New York State but moved to Raisin, Lenawee County, Michigan, following her marriage at sixteen. In 1837, influenced by the example of Oberlin College, she and her husband founded the Raisin Institute, an academy open to "all of good moral character" regardless of race. After her husband's death, she became increasingly involved with the underground railroad, traveling frequently to the South and enacting elaborate plans to help slaves escape. When the Civil War broke out, she organized relief efforts for wounded or imprisoned soldiers as well as for former slaves, refugees, and those who were illegally still held in bondage, working with the Freedman's Relief Association and the American Missionary Association, with which she established an orphanage primarily devoted to black children. Although she lectured, lobbied, and ministered, Haviland's forte was grassroots activism--organizing, protesting, lobbying, or demonstrating against the specific injustices she encountered. Her book is filled with individual stories of black-white relationships under slavery and includes a slave narrative from a man called "Uncle Philip," transcribed in his own words. Haviland writes graphic descriptions of the punishments meted out to slaves and gives the reader eyewitness accounts of war-time prisons, hospitals, soup kitchens and refugee camps. She provides extensive information about the subtle relationships between the Society of Friends and evangelical Christianity. Though Haviland became a Wesleyan Methodist for the most active period of her life, she returned to her Quaker origins shortly before her death.
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