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Library of Congress Reveals Previously Unknown Portrait of Harriet Tubman in New, Digitized Album

Illustration for article titled Library of Congress Reveals Previously Unknown Portrait of Harriet Tubman in New, Digitized Album
Photo: Library of Congress

It’s Harriet Tubman, the world’s No. 1 certified badass, as you’ve never seen her before.


On Tuesday the Library of Congress announced that it had conserved and digitized a previously unknown portrait of the famed abolitionist and “conductor” of the Underground Railroad as part of an album to be exhibited in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture this year.

Portrait of Harriet Tubman
Portrait of Harriet Tubman
Photo: Library of Congress

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the museum, said in a press release:

This photo album allows us to see Harriet Tubman in a riveting, new way; other iconic portraits present her as either stern or frail. This new photograph shows her relaxed and very stylish. Sitting with her arm casually draped across the back of a parlor chair, she’s wearing an elegant bodice and a full skirt with a fitted waist. Her posture and facial expression remind us that historical figures are far more complex than most people realize. This adds significantly to what we know about this fierce abolitionist. And that’s a good thing.

The album was originally created as a gift for Emily Howland, a Quaker schoolteacher and abolitionist who lived in Sherwood, N.Y., just a few minutes away from Tubman herself. Howland died in 1929.

The album was ultimately jointly acquired with funds from the Library of Congress James Madison Council and from the Smithsonian in an auction in 2017. Each of the 48 rare images within—including the only known photo of John Willis Menard, the first African-American man to be elected to Congress—was cleaned, digitally scanned and returned to the album.


The full collection is available online to be viewed.

As for the physical copy of the album, conservators at the library have carefully reattached the cover, treated the leather album and of course cleaned the photos to ensure the best long-term preservation. The public will also have a chance to view the physical copy of the album at the NMAAHC in a special exhibition later this year.

News Editor at The Root, animation nerd, soca junkie, yogi

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