Education

Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868)

web2110405Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was a fierce advocate of equal opportunities for all Americans, and is most often remembered for his lifelong devotion to the cause of racial equality. As the leader of the Republican Party in Congress during the 1860s, he played an instrumental role in passing the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and upheld African-American civil rights during the Reconstruction. As a young man, he also helped write legislation mandating free public schooling in Pennsylvania. His sharp tongue and progressive views made him a controversial figure; however, he was popular among his supporters and known for his generosity. Recent archeological evidence also indicates that Stevens and his free black housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith, harbored fugitive slaves on Stevens' property.

Stevens wore a wig for most of his adult life because he suffered from alopecia, a condition which causes hair loss and left him entirely bald at the age of thirty-five. Stevens' contemporaries often noted that his wigs fit poorly or were worn askew. He wore the wig in the collection of LancasterHistory.org during his later years, and this unique artifact embodies the values of a man who cared little about his personal appearance but tirelessly championed the rights of others.

 

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Thaddeus Stevens hired Lydia Smith, a smart and personable black woman, as his housekeeper. For over twenty years she served as housekeeper, confidante, and looked after his nephews. Stevens deeded her property behind his house for $500 where he had built a brick home for her. In his will Stevens provided money to Smith to buy his house.

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