Mary Elizabeth Bowser, born a slave in Virginia about 1839 and emancipated in 1843, served the Union during the American Civil War as a spy in the Confederate White House.
The Ocean County Library will host a program recognizing her patriotic mettle during four programs in February.
Dancer, poet and performance artist Lorraine Stone will bring Bowser’s story to life and reintroduce this hero to county residents.
Though a free woman, Bowser chose to remain a servant in the Van Lew household, fiercely loyal to the family matriarch, abolitionist and Quaker Elizabeth Van Lew. Miss Van Lew, recognizing Bowser’s educational abilities, sent her to the Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia in the late 1850s.
Returning from Philadelphia just before the Civil War began, Bowser was recruited as a spy by Van Lew and found herself working in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s household as a domestic servant. From there she was able to obtain sensitive information and passed that along to Van Lew.
That information immediately went to Generals Benjamin Butler and Ulysses S. Grant.
Bowser was honored for her work in the Civil War with an induction into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in Fort Huachuca, Az. in 1995.
Lorraine Stone, dressed in clothing patterned from the era, will present Bowser’s story at three library locations:
Upper Shores branch, 112 Jersey City Av., Lavallette Wed. Feb. 1 @ 4 p.m.
Little Egg Harbor branch, 290 Mathistown Road, Thur. Feb. 9 @ 7 p.m.
Lakewood branch, 301 Lexington Av., Mon. Feb. 13 @ 6:30 p.m.
Barnegat branch, 112 Burr St., Thur. Feb. 16 @ 7 p.m.
A similar program will be sponsored by the NAACP. Kati Beddow’s “Eyes of Spies: Women of the Civil War,” will be held in the Toms River branch, 101 Washington St., Sat. Feb. 25 @ 2 p.m. The program will also include a soul-food tasting prepared by NAACP members in honor of Black History Month.
All these programs are offered free and open to the public but registration is required. For more information or to register for any of these programs telephone the operator at (732) 349-6200 or (609) 971-0514, or visit the library Web site http://www.theoceancountylibrary.org .
Please be aware that some programs may have waiting lists or may be at capacity at the time of your call. Register early.