By early 1863, the former slave Harriet Jacobs was in better health than she’d been in years. Nearly two decades earlier, she had escaped to freedom after years hidden away in the garret above her grandmother’s home in Edenton, N.C. The confinement – within a crawlspace 9 feet long, 7 feet wide and 3 feet high – had been physically punishing, she noted in her narrative, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.”
Jacobs had written the book in the 1850s, but in fits and starts, slowed not only by her responsibilities as a nursemaid in the Hudson Valley home of the magazine editor Nathaniel Parker Willis but also at one point by “a severe attack of Rheumatism” that kept her from raising her hands even to her head. The following year, once again suffering from an “old complaint,” Jacobs was given the diagnosis of what may have been uterine fibroids: “The Doct examined me this summer an say that I have a Tumer on my womb and that my womb have become hard as stone.”
But in February 1863, energized by President Lincoln’s promise of emancipation and her own public role as an abolitionist, these troubles seemed finally behind her.