Newly discovered portrait of young Harriet Tubman goes on display
© Courtesy of Smithsonian

A newly discovered photo of Harriet Tubman, the African American abolitionist who led numerous people out of slavery, has gone on display for the first time in Washington, D.C.

The photograph on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is believed to be the earliest known photograph of Tubman, according to Smithsonian magazine.

In the photo, a young Tubman, roughly in her 40s, can be seen wearing an elegant dress while sitting in a chair.


Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the museum, told the magazine that the photograph is significant because “all of us had only seen images of her at the end of her life.”

“She seemed frail. She seemed bent over, and it was hard to reconcile the images of Moses (one of Tubman’s nicknames) leading people to freedom,” Bunch said.

“But then when you see this picture of her, probably in her early 40s, taken about 1868 or 1869 . . . there’s a stylishness about her. And you would have never had me say to somebody ‘Harriet Tubman is stylish,” he continued. 

Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland in the early 1820s. She became known later in life for her efforts guiding hundreds of slaves to freedom using the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe houses.

“A picture like that does a couple of things. First,” Bunch told the magazine,” it reminds people that someone like Harriet Tubman was an ordinary person who did extraordinary things. So, this means you too can change the world." 

“But I also think one of the real challenges of history is that sometimes we forget to humanize the people we talk about . . . and I think that picture humanizes her in a way that I would have never imagined,” he added.

The photograph had reportedly been discovered in an album that belonged to abolitionist Emily Howland. Howland and Tubman were reportedly close friends.

According to the Smithsonian magazine, the photograph will be on display at the museum until March 31.