Updated: Nov 9, 2022
By Journey Artis
Anna Murray Douglass was an African American abolitionist, member of the Underground railroad, and Fredrick Douglass' first wife. However, you don't hear much about her often and instead hear about Douglass' second wife, Helen Pitts-Douglass, a white woman whom Fredrick Douglass married after Anna died and after he had a year of depression, as a response to her death.
Anna Murray Douglass was born on March 8, 1813, in Denton, Maryland. Douglass and her younger siblings were born free, unlike her elder seven siblings. Douglass' parents were freed one month before she was born. By the age of 17, she had gotten herself a job as a laundress and housekeeper, where her laundry work took her to the docks, where she met her husband, Fredrick Douglass. Anna's freedom gave Douglass the will to want to be free too. She helped him escape giving him sailor's clothing that her work provided her with. She even gave him part of her savings, and after Douglass ended up in New York, Murray followed him, and they began their marriage and household. They first took on the name Johnson and then Douglass as their married name. They had five children together within the first ten years of their marriage, Rosetta Douglass, Lewis Henry Douglass, Frederick Douglass Jr., Charles Reymond Douglass, and Annie Douglass. Anna contributed to her family's finances by working as a laundress, making shoes, as Fredrick brought income through his speeches. However, the family did financially struggle.
Anna was part of the Boston Female Anti- Slavery Society and convinced Frederick to train their sons to be typesetters for the" North Star," which was Fredrick's abolitionist newspaper. Upon the family moving to Rochester, New York, Anna created a headquarter for the Underground Railroad. This headquarters provided food, board, clean linen, and shelter for fugitive slaves set for Canada. However, throughout Douglass' three autobiographies, Anna received little or no mention. This was so prominent to where Henry Louis Gates once wrote, "Douglass made his life story a sort of political diorama in which she had no role." She and Frederick became very distant with one another after Fredrick started leaving home for long periods of time, due to his work, Anna feeling insufficient in comparison to the women that Frederick was surrounded with due to her lack of education in comparison to them, and by the long amounts of time, they would spend together. Additionally, two women who were guests at the Douglass' home had numerous unkind things to say about Anna. Nevertheless, she remained loyal to him and his public role until her death.
Frederick and Anna's youngest daughter, Annie, died at the young age of ten, and after that tragic family event, Anna was in poor health quite often. In 1882, in her family home in Washington, D.C, Anna Murray Douglass died of a stroke. She was then buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, located in Rochester New York, on February 22, 1895, and Fredrick Douglass was buried right next to her after his death. Anna played a very prominent role in Fredrick Douglass' career since if it were not for her, he would not have been able to have the impact he had. She helped him escape slavery, operated a headquarter for the Underground Railroad in her home, and kept her family on track with all of Fredrick's hectic and dangerous career events and work. Anna Murray Douglass definitely deserves recognition for her contribution to the abolitionist and African Americans' progression throughout the darkest time in American history-slavery. She is truly the definition of perseverance and excellence and should be remembered for her work that helped ultimately change African Americans' lives.