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Van Lew, Elizabeth (1818–1900)

Van Lew, Elizabeth (1818–1900)

American abolitionist and spy. Name variations: Crazy Bet. Born Oct 17, 1818, in Richmond, Virginia; died Sept 25, 1900, in Richmond; dau. of John Van Lew (hardware merchant) and Elizabeth (Baker) Van Lew; educated in Philadelphia and at home.

Longtime opponent of slavery, even before the Civil War began, maintained loyalty to the Union despite her home state of Virginia's being a Confederate stronghold; during Civil War, assisted inmates at Libby Prison, a confederate prison camp for federal officers, and smuggled their letters back to their families; with mother, helped more than 100 of them to escape, hiding them in a secret room in the Van Lew house; was the Union's most valuable spy; obtained Confederate military information at Libby, then passed it on to Union forces; because she came from such a prominent Richmond family, was trusted and allowed access to many places, including Jefferson Davis' Confederate White House, where, to gain even more information, she placed as a servant the former slave whose education she had sponsored, Mary Elizabeth Bowser.

See also Women in World History.

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