Library talk honors women spies of the Civil War

Vernice Jackson portrays Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a former slave who became a spy.

Harriet Tubman is well-known as the former slave who led more than 300 people to freedom as a conductor in the Underground Railroad. She was also a spy for the Union Army.

While she was volunteering as a cook and nurse, Tubman was recruited to help establish a network of spies in South Carolina. She and many other women used their feminine status to perform feats of espionage during the Civil War.

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library has been exploring the Civil War era in a series of programs, Tales and Chronicles of the Civil War, developed in conjunction with Dobama Theatre's holiday season production of A Civil War Christmas.

At 7 p.m. on Feb. 23, the Lee Road Library will welcome Vernice Jackson for a program titled Women In History: Civil War Spy Mary Elizabeth Bowser. Jackson will portray Bowser, a freed slave who returned to the South at the urging of her former mistress to become a spy in the Confederate White House of Jefferson Davis.

“Each time I step into a costume, I open the door to the past and enable my character’s voice to be heard once again. I take pride in presenting details about her life and times that few people are aware of. I want my audience to know the woman as well as her historical contribution,” said Jackson, who is president and managing director of Women In History.

“Women In History has been sharing stories of women in American history—famous, infamous and obscure,” Jackson said. “Mary Elizabeth Bowser is obscure, a women lost in time. I take pride in bringing her story to light.”

Fans of this topic may enjoy a related program, the Original Voices Book Club, a new monthly book discussion that explores the other side of well-known stories. February's topic is the book Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, by Karen Abbot, which features the stories of four women who risked everything to become spies in the Civil War. The characters include a Southern belle, Belle Boyd, who uses her “feminine wiles” as a courier and spy for the Confederate army; a woman who disguised herself as a man to enlist in the Union army; and a wealthy abolitionist who hid behind her Southern manners. The fourth is Elizabeth Van Lew, who owned and freed Mary Elizabeth Bowser, and helped her orchestrate one of the greatest feats of espionage in the Civil War.

The discussion of Abbot's book will take place at the Lee Road Library on Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Julia Murphy

Julia Murphy is the marketing assistant for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 6:44 PM, 01.29.2015