An old photo album containing a rare portrait of the legendary underground railroad conductor Harriet Tubman has been jointly acquired by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the institutions said Friday.
The new image depicts Tubman as a much younger woman than she appears in other known pictures. It is among 44 rare images in the album, including the only known photograph of John Willis Menard, the first African American man elected to the U.S. Congress.
“We are so thrilled,” Gayle Osterberg, a Library of Congress spokeswoman, said Friday in an email.
“The institutions have agreed to joint ownership and will digitize the photographs as soon as possible,” she wrote. “The intention is to make them as widely available as possible through online images everyone can use.”
The album was sold at auction Thursday at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. The price was $130,000, Osterberg said.
“We were able to do it pooling funds — some existing donated funds — from two national cultural institutions,” she said.
The album came to light last year when a collector, who had purchased it decades earlier, brought it to the galleries for evaluation.
“I almost fell off my chair,” Wyatt Houston Day, a Swann specialist in African Americana, said when he paged through the album and spotted the Tubman image.
Tubman escaped from slavery in Dorchester County, Md., in 1849. But she repeatedly returned at great risk to help relatives and friends out of bondage along the secret anti-slavery network to freedom that was the underground railroad.
Between about 1850 and 1860, using stealth and disguise, she made 13 trips, spiriting 70 people out of slavery, historians say.
The album had belonged to Emily Howland, a Quaker schoolteacher who taught at Camp Todd, a school for freed slaves in Arlington, Va. Day said the collector had purchased it at a marshals sale in New York 30 years ago.
“It is a distinct honor to have these photographs that tell an important part of America’s history,” Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum, said in a statement. “We are pleased and humbled to work with the Library of Congress to ensure that this rare and significant collection will be preserved and made accessible to the American public.”