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Laura Smith Haviland

Laura Smith Haviland

Laura Smith Haviland was born December 20, 1808 in Ontario, Canada. The daughter of a Quaker minister, Haviland grew up in a faith that opposed slavery. In November of 1825, Laura married Charles Haviland, the son of Quaker ministers. Four years later, the Haviland family moved to Lenawee County, Michigan.

The Havilands quickly assimilated into the Lenawee County abolitionist movement. They joined the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society, founded by Elizabeth Chandler. This was the first anti-slavery organization in Michigan.

In 1837, the Havilands founded the Rasin Institute, a reform school for "poorhouse" children. The institute admitted any child, regardless of race, creed, or sex - a very atypical practice for the times. It was the first school in Michigan to admit African Americans and possibly the first vocational school as well.

Perhaps Laura Haviland is best known for her efforts in the Underground Railroad. Haviland worked on the route from Cincinnati to Canada. In 1846, while helping an African-American family to Canada, the white family that claimed them as property stormed the Haviland house. Laura Haviland kept the intruders out until other abolitionists came to their aid and drove the southerners away. As a result, she was featured on a wanted poster advertising $3,000 for her killing.

Haviland also traveled to southern states to distribute supplies for escaping slaves. While on these trips, she collected evidence of the brutality of slavery, such as binders, neck collars, knee stiffeners, handcuffs, and leg cuffs. Haviland brought these souvenirs with her to abolitionist talks so that her audience could better understand the horrors of slavery. Some of these items are displayed with her in the photograph above.

During the Civil War, Haviland served as a nurse. She traveled into the southern states and saw firsthand the brutality of war. While working in a hospital in New Orleans in 1864, she heard rumors of a prisoner of war camp in the islands for Union soldiers. She visited the camps and after seeing the horrible conditions, Haviland wrote to the U.S. Congress to voice her concerns. As a result, Congress negotiated with the Confederacy for the soldiers' release.

After the war, Haviland began work for the Freedman Aids Bureau in Detroit collecting and distributing supplies to former slaves. A few years later, she began her work for temperance and women's suffrage. She was a founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in Michigan in 1887.

Laura Haviland died April 20, 1898 in Grand Traverse County, Michigan. In memoriam of her efforts, there is a statue of her in Adrian.

-Nicole Garrett, Project Archivist


The Library of Michigan has many resources related to Laura Haviland, including her autobiography, A Woman's Life Work. Click Library of Michigan to visit the Library's web site.


The Archives of Michigan has highlighted Women's History Month in past Image of the Month features:

Click Sara Emma Edmonds Seeley for an article on a female Civil War soldier.

Click Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering to read about the women doctors who discovered the whooping cough vaccine.


Click Archives of Michigan to visit the Archives of Michigan home page.

Click Archives Image of the Month to view archived image pages.

Archives of Michigan
Michigan Library and Historical Center
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48913
Phone: (517) 373-1408
E-mail: archives@michigan.gov

This page is the Archives Image of the Month page for March 2007.

Updated 03/30/2007


Michigan Historical Center, Department of History, Arts and Libraries
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