Haviland, Laura Smith

Laura Smith Haviland's entire life is a tie to the philanthropic sector. She worked tirelessly as a volunteer in helping slaves obtain freedom, educating and caring for former slaves and orphans. Laura is a prime example of selfless love given to others over a lifetime.

Biographical Highlights

Laura Smith Haviland was a pioneer social activist who devoted her life to others. In 1837, she co-founded with her husband, Charles, the Raisin Institute, one of the first schools in the United States to admit black students.  She also organized one of the first stations on the underground railroad in Michigan (Lenawee County 2004).

Called "Aunt Laura" among her extended family, Laura Haviland was very involved in an anti-slavery movement,” (Haviland) serving as Superintendent and Stationmaster on the Underground Railroad.  After the Civil War, she became an officer in the Freedman’s Aid Society, assisting in the relocation and adjustment of former slaves in Kansas.  Laura also worked for the temperance movement, helping to create state schools for dependent children in Coldwater and Adrian in Michigan (Lenawee County 2004).

Historic Roots

Laura Smith Haviland was a small frontier woman with ideals of nineteenth-century Wesleyan Methodists.  She was born to Rev. Daniel Smith (a native of New York) and Sene Blancher (a native of Vermont), in Canada on December 20, 1808 (Haviland).  Laura grew up in the Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers.   She married Charles Haviland, also a devout Quaker, when she was 16 (Haines 1977).

After her marriage to Charles Haviland she became involved in the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society which led the Havilands to leave the Society of Friends. The Quakers were divided over the issue of slavery with some feeling it was right to break the law to help free slaves and others wanting to leave the matter to God (Krcatovich 1999). 

In 1826, Laura’s parents moved to southeastern Michigan near Adrian, and three years later were joined by Charles, Laura and two children.   Their home was a 16 by 18 foot log cabin, and it was here that Laura raised her family and had a total of eight children. She was devoted to human need, serving as a nurse to ill neighbors (Havilands.com). 


Although her story is mentioned in only a few history books, Laura Smith Haviland is an important example of how much one person can accomplish so much in a lifetime to end suffering in the world (Krcatovich 1999). 

In the early 1830s, Laura helped organize the first anti-slavery society in Michigan, and it was then that she and Charles established the first station on the Underground Railroad in the state.  The Railroad helped escaped slaves travel to Canada undetected in order to gain their freedom (Haviland).  The Havilands took great personal risk with The Railroad being in violation of the Fugitive Slave Law.  It is not known how many slaves found freedom through the junction, but it is estimated between 40,000 and 100,000 (Haines 1977). 

Laura became a schoolteacher, instructing the orphans of the county.  Her concern for these children led to her found the Raisin Institute in 1836, insisting that it be open to all regardless of race, sex, or creed—an unusual practice for the day (Haviland).  The school started with nine children from the poorhouse to learn basic education and a skilled trade to move them out of poverty.  The education of blacks was forbidden in many states and the school was the first to teach blacks in Michigan. The school prepared blacks to teach, showed that whites and black could work together, and was often a refuge for runaway slaves (Krcatovich 1999).

In 1841, the Havilands joined Wolf Creek, the first Wesleyan Methodist church in Michigan’s Lenawee County. In contrast to her experience with the Quakers, Laura was now free to fight slavery among fellow worshipers (Havilands.com).

Much of the Haviland’s family was claimed by an epidemic and she later had dreams of a slave at her door with bloody feet and shackles on his ankles.  She felt that was a sign for her to take a more active role in the antislavery movement (Futgate 1997).  After Charles’s death, Laura increased her involvement in the Underground Railroad. In 1846-47, she was successful in derailing the efforts of a group of Southern men to return a family of escaped slaves back into slavery (Havilands.com). 

Laura often traveled with escaped slaves and educated them in Ohio and Canada where many settled.  In 1852, she started a school with her sister in Toledo.  They also established a church and school in Windsor, Canada.  Laura felt that it was important for former slaves to read and write as protection from being further oppressed by whites who would have them sign contracts they couldn't read (Krcatovich 1999).

The Underground Railroad came to a halt when the Civil War began. By 1863, many of Haviland's students had enlisted as soldiers.  Laura headed south to assist black families who were left homeless by the war.  She left home with $15 in cash, supplies,  blankets, clothing and food (Krcatovich 1999).  Laura secured recommendations from the governor and a congressman to travel to Mississippi in order to minister to wounded soldiers and former slaves.  She succeeded in having a head of one military hospital removed because of his cruelty and neglect, and successfully intervened on behalf of 3,000 Union soldiers imprisoned on islands in the Gulf of Mexico.  She later went to Kansas to minister to refugees (Havilands.com).

Following the war, Laura became a representative for the Freedman's Aid Bureau, being paid for the first time for her work in obtaining supplies and setting up schools for refugees.  She sold the Raisin Institute to the State of Michigan and traveled to Washington, D.C. to inquire about assistance for freed slaves there.  With conditions for blacks were poor in Washington D.C., she moved the children north where they were given an education and taught about industry (Krcatovich 1999).

By 1879, many blacks were fleeing from the South into Kansas, where the Klu Klux Klan was making life unbearable.  Laura traveled to Kansas to assist the refugees and helped found an educational institution for them.  In 1883, she went to Washington, D.C. to obtain financial support from Congress and then returned to minister in a mission in Hell’s Half Acre of Kansas City. Her efforts led to the naming of Haviland, Kansas in her honor (Havilands.com).  Laura became involved in the temperance movement and fought for women's right to vote (Krcatovich 1999).

In 1881, Laura wrote her autobiography, A Woman’s Life Work. In it, she summarizes her philosophy as, “Is it not the duty of every Christian to bring his or her religion into every line of life work, and act as conscientiously in politics as in church work? Sanctified common sense is loudly called for on the highway of holiness. In whatever condition or station in life we find ourselves, are we not our brother’s keeper in a more extensive view than we are prone to conceive?” (Havilands.com).

In 1898, Laura Smith Haviland died. A statue of her titled, "A tribute to a life consecrated to the betterment of humanity," stands in front of Adrian City Hall.  Above a drinking fountain at her feet are the words, "I was thirsty and ye gave me drink” (Haines 1977). 

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Laura Smith Haviland’s entire life is a tie to the philanthropic sector.  She worked tirelessly as a volunteer in helping slaves obtain freedom, and educated and cared for former slaves and orphans.  With the term philanthropy meaning, “for the love of mankind,” Laura is a prime example of selfless love given to others over a lifetime.


Key Related Ideas

Abolitionism:  a political movement that sought to abolish slavery and the slave trade starting with The Enlightenment and then expanding to a large movement in several nations in the 19th century (Wikipedia).

Slavery:  under European rule, slavery began with the importation of white European slaves (or indentured servants), and was followed by the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean.  As these native populations declined through disease,  Africa became the primarly source of slaves (Wikipedia).

Underground Railroad:  citizens helped slaves escape from the South, via the Underground Railroad which was a secret, often informal, organization of safe hiding places and people willing to provide transportation.  By day, runaway slaves hid in buildings or underground cellars called stations, and at night, they traveled north. Station operators gave the slaves food, warm clothing and a place to sleep. Operators gave slaves directions or transportation to the next station which was often ten to fifteen miles away. The Underground Railroad operated primarily between 1830 and 1861 (Michigan.gov 2003).

The Temperance Movement:  in the United States, the term Temperance Movement is sometimes applied specifically to the period starting around 1845 and ending when the Prohabition began in 1918 with the passage of the Volstead  Act.  The movement blamed many of society's ills, including joblessness and domestic violence, on the drinking of alcoholic beverages, and tried to persuade people to abstain from these by becoming teetotalers (Wikipedia).

Important People Related to the Topic

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895):  Douglass was an American abolitionist.  Fearing capture as a fugitive slave, he spent several years in England and Ireland, returning in 1847 after English friends had purchased his freedom.  During the Civil War, he helped organize two regiments of Massachusetts African Americans and urged other blacks to join  Union ranks.  During Reconstruction, he continued to urge civil rights for African Americans (The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 2003).

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883):  Truth was an American abolitionist and a freed slave.  She was originally named Isabella and was born in Ulster County, New York.  In 1843, convinced that she heard heavenly voices, left domestic employment in New York City, adopted the name Sojourner Truth, and traveled throughout the North preaching emancipation and women's rights.  She spoke with great effectiveness
despite being unable to read (The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 2003).

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913):  Tubman is the most well-known of all the Underground Railroad's "conductors."  During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.  And, as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she "never lost a single passenger" (Public Broadcast System).

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in New York City in 1909 and works for the protection and enhancement of the civil rights of African Americans and other minorities (http://www.naacp.org).

  • Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was created by Martin Luther King to help coordinate nonviolent protest, such as sit-ins, voter registration drives, and other civil rights events.  Today, SCLC promotes and works for the civil and human rights for African American and also for blacks in other countries (http://sclcnational.org). 

  • United Negro College Fund (UNCF) provides minority higher education assistance in the way of operating funds and technology enhancement services for 39 member historically black colleges and universities, scholarships and internships for students at about 900 institutions, and faculty and administrative professional training (http://www.uncf.org).

Related Web Sites

AfricanAmericans.com Web site, at http://www.africanamericans.com, provides information on Activism, African Origins, Biographies, Black Films, Census Facts, Civil Rights, Speeches, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Notable Women, Timeline, and much more.

African American World Web site, at https://www.pbs.org/retired-site/, offers a Timeline from the 1400s to present day and an abundance of resources and information for children and adults relating to African American history and culture.

Gateway Black History Web site, at http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/blackhis, is a site of the U.S. Department of State that offers information on Black History Month, Martin Luther King, Jr., Art and Culture, Black History Stamps, and much more. 

The Underground Railroad Web site, at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/railroad/, provides a unique online experience where the user can travel the journey of a slave on the Underground Railroad. 


Bibliography and Internet Sources

Futgate, Sandy. For the Benefit of All: A History of Philanthropy in Michigan.  Battle Creek: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 1997. ISBN:  1-891445-00-6.

Haines, Lee.  Laura Smith Haviland: Wesleyan Pioneer.  1977.  Women’s History: The Unsung Hero.  Accessed 6 October 2004.

Havilands.com. Mrs. Laura (Smith) Haviland - Philanthropist / Slavery Abolitionist. Accessed 26 September 2004.

Krcatovich, Gina. “A Lifetime of Fighting for Freedom.”  Senior Times January 7, 1999. Flashers Publishers. Accessed 26 September 2004. http://www.theflashes.net/seniortimes/jan99/stories/010699/ftr_freedom.html.

Lenawee County Michigan Genealogy on the Web. Lenawee County Michigan Monument # 11 Dedicated to Laura Smith Haviland. 2004.  Accessed 6 October 2004. http://www.geocities.com/lenaweemi/monu11.html.

Michigan.Gov. State of Michigan. The Underground Railroad. 2003.  Accessed 7 October 2004. http://www.sos.state.mi.us/history/museum/explore/

Public Broadcasting System. Harriet Tubman. 1995 – 2004. Accessed 11 October 2004.

The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.  2003. Columbia University Press.  Truth, Sojourner. Accessed 7 October 2004.

Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. Temperance Movement.  Accessed 7 October 2004.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus. It is offered by Learning To Give and Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus.