Haviland, Laura S. (1808–1898)

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Haviland, Laura S. (1808–1898)

Canadian-born abolitionist and welfare worker. Born Laura Smith on December 20, 1808, in Ontario, Canada; died on April 20, 1898, in Grand Rapids, Michigan; daughter of Daniel and Sene (Blancher) Smith; attended public school in Canada and the Union Free School in Lockport, New York; married Charles Haviland, Jr., on November 3, 1825; children: Harvey S. Haviland; Daniel S. Haviland; Esther M. Haviland ; Anna C. Haviland ; Joseph Haviland; Laura Jane Haviland ; Almira Ann Haviland ; Lavina Haviland .

Laura Smith was born in Kitley Township, Leeds County, Ontario, Canada, on December 20, 1808, the eldest of eight children of Quaker parents. Smith found the Quaker faith of her parents to be too rigid, and leaned more toward frontier revivalism which emphasized humanitarianism. She married Charles Haviland, Jr., on November 3, 1825. A young Quaker, Charles shared his wife's religious and humanitarian convictions. In September of 1829, they moved to a Quaker settlement in Raisin Township, Lenawee County, in Michigan territory, where they joined Elizabeth Margaret Chandler —another Quaker sympathetic with their beliefs—and formed the first antislavery society in Michigan. After objections from other Quakers regarding their abolitionist activities, they withdrew from the Society of Friends.

In 1837, Haviland and her husband opened a small school at their farm, for orphans and indigent county charges. Two years later, it became the River Raisin Institute, a preparatory school that did not discriminate on the basis of race or sex. It frequently served as a haven for fugitive slaves and received support from Michigan abolitionists.

By 1844, Haviland had become a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The following year, an erysipelas epidemic took the lives of her husband, both of her parents, one sister and her youngest child. After this tragedy, she placed the River Raisin Institute in the care of trustees and turned to antislavery activities. Haviland devoted the next 20 years to welfare work among African-Americans, including riding the Underground Railroad, giving speeches, and teaching in black schools. During the Civil War, she visited and worked in hospitals and prison camps, aided refugee slaves in religious instruction, and helped with the care of black children.

In 1864, Haviland traveled widely through the South as a paid agent of the Michigan Freedmen's Aid Commission. She remained with the

Freedmen after the war, moving to Kansas in 1879 to work with African-Americans who flocked to the state. During the war, the River Raisin Institute underwent several changes, finally being converted to an orphans' home under the direction of the Freedmen. The home closed, but, as a result of its work, the state of Michigan investigated the need for such homes, contributing to the founding of the State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children. Haviland led a successful movement to found a State Industrial School for wayward girls.

In later life, Haviland put her energies toward the temperance crusade and the women's suffrage movement. In 1872, she returned to the Quaker faith. Laura S. Haviland died of apoplexy at 81, on April 20, 1898, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was buried in the Friends Cemetery near Adrian.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland