Out of the Shadows: Anna Murray-Douglass

Anna Murray-Douglass

Meet Anna Murray-Douglass, the woman who married Frederick Douglass and helped him escape from slavery to become the civil rights leader we all know today.

Born a free woman in 1813 to previously enslaved parents in Maryland, Anna Murray started work as a laundress at a young age, amassing enough assets that would one day provide for Frederick’s escape and their new life together in the North.

She met Frederick at the Baltimore docks when he was still a slave. She masterminded his escape by sewing him a sailor suit, coveting a “freedom certificate,” and buying him a train ticket to New York. Once he was there, she took her savings and possessions and moved north to join him. Her savings allowed them to start a new life in the North.

She worked as a laundress and shoe maker to support their family of five children and Frederick’s remarkable speaking career, even when that career took him to England for two years. It was even her idea for Frederick to teach his sons typesetting so they could start the notable abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.

Not only did she run the household, she was also an active member in politics and the abolition movement. She belonged to the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and was a host on the Underground Railroad. She ran in circles with Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, and John Brown. She was also the hostess for numerous anti-slavery events and meetings at the Douglass home.

Though she wasn’t as literate as her husband, she could read music and even played the violin. However, despite her profound accomplishments as a self-made woman, an active member in politics, and someone who risked her life to save fugitive slaves—including her husband—many of Frederick’s white allies looked down on Anna. They thought he could do “better” and often snubbed her at their home events. Frederick himself barely mentions her in his three autobiographies, though it is unclear the exact reason as to why.

Very few knew of her vast accomplishments until after she passed in 1882. It was her children who brought her life to light, hoping her memory would not be completely erased in Frederick’s towering shadow. Her daughter, Rosetta, published a book about her mom’s influence and importance entitled, My Mother as I Recall Her.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most important figures in American history, but standing right next to him was a remarkable woman who deserves to come out from his shadow.