Honoring Harriet A. Jacobs (1813-1897); Abolitionist, Author, Women's Rights Advocate

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2018 Women's History Month Walking Tour honors ten notable women memorialized at Mount Auburn Cemetery, including Harriet A. Jacobs

  • Mount Auburn Cemetery Gate
  • Memorials
  • Visitors Center
  • Lake

It seems fitting today, April 3, as we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and mourn the ongoing racial and economic injustice against which he fought, to also honor Harriet A. Jacobs (1813-1897) - abolitionist, author, and women’s rights advocate - who lived in Cambridge for part of her life.

This incredibly brave and influential woman, honored on the Cambridge African-American Heritage Trail and in the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project Database, was also featured on a Women’s History month walking tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery. I admire and empathize with Ms. Jacobs, but it is not possible for me, within my experience of white privilege in this country, to comprehend what she endured and triumphed over in her lifetime. Her work and accomplishments live on.

2018 Women’s History Walking Tour at Mount Auburn Cemetery
In celebration of the 2018 National Women’s History Project theme, “Nevertheless She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight all Forms of Discrimination Against Women,” Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery hosted a walking tour on March 24. Volunteer Docents researched and led a walk to visit a sampling of the notable women memorialized at Mount Auburn.

Mount Auburn, America’s first garden cemetery, is a beautiful landscape in all seasons with its rolling hills, water features, trees, and – in some seasons – flowering plants. Although there was still some snow on the ground, March 24 was a sunny and pleasant afternoon, and the tour was extremely informative. I know quite a bit about U.S. women’s history, and especially Cambridge women’s history, but I learned a lot more on this tour.

Harriet Jacobs Biography
Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in North Carolina, was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her “master,” (sic) and eventually escaped at age 22. She hid in an attic in her grandmother’s house for seven years, coming out only to see her two children. In 1842, she fled to New York and worked as a nursemaid to earn money to arrange for her children’s freedom.

After relocating to Boston, Jacobs began to write the full story of her life, encouraged by several abolitionists, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself was originally published under the pseudonym Linda Brent, due to Jacobs’ well-founded fear that she would be captured and returned to slavery – see the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – which required that officials and citizens of all states, even free states (those who had outlawed slavery) were required to cooperate with slave “owners” (sic) trying to recapture escaped slaves. Jacobs traveled to London to sell her manuscript, and it was published in 1861.

After the Civil War, Jacobs lived in Cambridge for five years, renting a house on Trowbridge Street that she ran as a boarding house for two years. She then spent three additional years in a house on the corner of Story and Mount Auburn streets - memorialized on the Cambridge African-American Heritage Trail - before moving to Washington D.C., where she spent the rest of her life, continuing her abolitionist, advocacy, and education work. Cambridge Women's Heritage Project Database>

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