Framing Freedom: The Harriet Hayden Albums

Inspired by the life and work of the Beacon Hill based abolitionist Harriet Bell Hayden, Framing Freedom: The Harriet Hayden Albums centers the experience of an African American woman as a means to explore American and regional histories, political expression and gender roles, and nineteenth century visual and material culture. Boston’s thriving African American community fueled the city’s international reputation for activism in the 1800s. Harriet Hayden, along with her husband, Lewis Hayden, were central figures.

The Harriet Hayden Albums — albums of carte de visite photographs offer an unusual record of friendship and network ties that illuminate a powerful social network in Boston and beyond. The albums are rare evidence of their world and prompt new reflection on the underrecognized role of Harriet in the abolitionist movement.

At the beginning of the exhibition, visitors meet Harriet and Lewis Hayden, two self-emancipated people, who helped hundreds like themselves escape slavery. We follow their escape from Kentucky to Boston, where they establish one of the most important safe houses on the Underground Railroad and are central figures in Boston’s anti-slavery movement.

This special exhibition is co-curated by Makeda Best, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, Oakland Museum of California and Virginia Reynolds Badgett, former Assistant Curator, Boston Athenaeum.