Rare photo of Harriet Tubman to be displayed at African-American history museum

A rare photo of famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman has found a home, just in time for Women's History Month.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture announced Tuesday that the recently discovered portrait of Tubman will be displayed for the first time at a special exhibit in the later this year. No specific date was given.         

Only a handful of photos of the abolitionist exist, and this is believed to be one of the earliest known photos of Tubman. The portrait, likely taken between 1866 and 1868, features the famed underground railroad conductor in her mid-40s looking relaxed and stylish.

MORE: Treasury secretary won’t commit to putting Tubman on $20 bill

A previously unrecorded photo of Harriet Tubman, circa 1860s, sold Thursday at auction for $161,000.

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“This photo album allows us to see Harriet Tubman in a riveting, new way; other iconic portraits present her as either stern or frail,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the NMAAHC, said in a statement. “This adds significantly to what we know about this fierce abolitionist. And that’s a good thing.”

The Library of Congress and the NMAAHC acquired the photo of Tubman at an auction last year along with photos of several other prominent 19th century abolitionists and politicians for $161,000, far more than what experts had predicted. The photo album also includes the only known photograph of John Willis Menard, the first African-American man elected to Congress.         

Born into slavery, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia in 1849 only to return to the South to help hundreds of slaves reach freedom through a network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She also served as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War and worked as a suffragist and an abolitionist in New York later in life.         

In 2016, the Treasury Department announced plans to make Tubman the new face of the $20 bill.

The photo of Tubman is part of an album originally compiled as a gift for Emily Howland (1827-1929), a Quaker schoolteacher and abolitionist from New York. The full collection of 48 images are now available online.       


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