(An archive post for Friday – I wrote this for the Unusual Historicals website last year.)
She was the very last person in the world whom anyone in Richmond, Virginia, would have suspected of being a spy … well, almost the last person, as her abolitionist sympathies were not a secret. But she was a genteel lady of certain years – and a very Southern sense of gentlemanly chivalry ensured that her activities went unsuspected and unhampered all during the Civil War. Elizabeth van Lew, if not a classical Southern belle in the Scarlett O’Hara mode was pious, eccentrically addicted to doing good works, and from a wealthy and well-established old Richmond family. Of course she couldn’t possibly be up to anything more than visiting the captive Union officers held as prisoners of war in a comfortless converted tobacco warehouse, bearing genteel gifts of food, books, clothing and writing materials, or being a regular Lady Bountiful towards the families of Richmond’s freed slaves. Everyone knew of her families’ eccentricities – her mother was a Quaker from Philadelphia, don’t-cha-know.