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During Black History Month, many teachers will highlight the compelling story of Harriet Tubman. While Tubman is most famous for her participation in the Underground Railroad, she should also be recognized for her work for the Union during the Civil War as a nurse, cook, and spy.

In 1898, Tubman again petitioned Congress for a pension for her services to the federal government, after earlier efforts were unsuccessful. The outcome of her petition exposes attitudes towards African Americans at the end of the century. A lesson using primary source documents from the Center for Legislative Archives can help your students understand Tubman’s federal service and the degree to which it was acknowledged by Congress.

H.R. 4982, a bill granting a pension to Harriet Tubman Davis, January 19, 1899, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier 306578.

H.R. 4982, a bill granting a pension to Harriet Tubman Davis, January 19, 1899, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier 306578.

Tubman’s thick pension file is filled with affidavits, letters of support, and correspondence that document the nature of her work in hospitals and kitchens and her scouting trips behind enemy lines. These records were collected to justify her claim for compensation since she had received only $200 for her services during the War.

On January 27, 1899, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4982, which increased Tubman’s pension from $8 to $25 a month. Previously in 1890, she had been granted a pension of $8 a month as the widow of veteran Nelson Davis, who she married after the War. The House bill based the proposed increase on Tubman’s own service, separate from her status as a widow.

S. Rpt. 1619 to accompany a bill granting a pension to Harriet Tubman Davis, February 7, 1899; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives Identifier 7330232

S. Rpt. 1619 to accompany a bill granting a pension to Harriet Tubman Davis, February 7, 1899; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives Identifier 7330232

H.R. 4982 was then sent to the Senate, which referred the matter to Committee on Pensions. After consideration, the committee made its recommendation in Senate Report #1619. This report includes the text of the report of the House Committee on Invalid Pensions, which cited several people who worked directly with Tubman during the War. Support for Tubman’s claim came from one of the highest possible sources—Secretary of State William Seward. Seward said, “I have known her long as a noble high spirit, as true as seldom dwells in the human form.” The House report concluded, “These testimonials sufficiently show the character and value of the service rendered by Mrs. Davis during the war.”

The Senate committee, however, came to a different conclusion. Referring to her “alleged services to the government,” the Senate noted that very few nurses earned a pension of $20 per month. Ignoring her work as a cook and spy, the Senate stated that “there are no valid reasons why this claimant should receive a pension of $25 per month as a nurse, thus opening a new avenue for pension increases.” The report ended with the recommendation that the Senate amend the House bill to lower the pension amount to $20.

Using a document analysis worksheet, your students can analyze these documents and others in the lesson. The worksheet can help students construct the case for and against Tubman’s claim, and to answer the lesson’s guiding question—to what extent, and for what services, did Congress officially acknowledge Harriet Tubman’s Civil War service to her country?

An Act Granting and Increase in Pension to Harriet Tubman Davis, February 28, 1899; 30 Stat 1539, Records of the General Government.

An Act Granting and Increase in Pension to Harriet Tubman Davis, February 28, 1899; 30 Stat 1539, Records of the General Government.

During a full class discussion, the students will see that the final act signed by President William McKinley shows that Congress did grant Tubman an increase in pension, but the Act did not acknowledge that the increase was for Tubman’s own service. The title of the original bill H.R. 4982 which referred to Tubman as “late a nurse in the United States Army” had been amended so that the nursing reference was removed. Instead, the Act only referred to Tubman as a veteran’s widow. Students can consider the state of race relations in 1899, and compare it to 2000, when Congress passed the Harriet Tubman Special Resource Study Act, which is available from the Government Printing Office. How has the interpretation of Tubman’s legacy changed?

See the full lesson at

We are now accepting applications for Primarily Teaching—our summer institute for educators on using historical documents in the classroom. Learn more and apply online.

Summer 2014 workshops will be conducted at:

  • The National Archives at Chicago, June 23–27
  • The National Archives in Washington, DC, July 7–11
  • The National Archives at Atlanta, Morrow, GA, July 21–25
  • The National Archives at Boston, Waltham, MA, July 21–25

Teachers in a workshop in Chicago

All workshops will have a national theme—Leadership and Legacy in History—matching that of National History Day in 2015. (Participation in the National History Day competition is not required.)

Each National Archives location will explore a specific case study, with original documents in our archival holdings, that fits within this broader theme:

  • Chicago: Journey for Civil Rights in the Midwest
  • Washington, DC: Investigations of Ellis Island, 1900–1920
  • Atlanta: FDR and the Tennessee Valley Authority: The Controversy of Progress
  • Boston: Boston Schools Desegregation: Lessons of Leadership, Courage, Process, and Equality

Digitization of documents related to these case studies will be our priority. You will find between 3 and 5 items (documents, photos, maps, etc.) to scan and describe. We will add these to our online tool for teaching with documents——while participants are onsite. During the workshop, you’ll produce a DocsTeach learning activity using the digitized materials.

After guided research using the case study, you will have the opportunity to continue researching the case study, or to go on to independently research a more specific topic of your choice related to Leadership and Legacy.

Last year’s participants in Boston and Washington, D.C., located and scanned over 90 primary sources that are now available to educators on DocsTeach! Topics included:

Join us this summer!

Whenever I see a film that starts with the phrase “Based on a True Story,” the second I get home I immediately start looking up to see where dramatic license was taken. This happened most recently after seeing “American Hustle” which is based on the ABSCAM sting operation of the 1970s (though that film opened with a more truthful statement—“some of this actually happened”).

Films based on major historical events are often based on records from the National Archives. This is especially true with the upcoming film “The Monuments Men” which opens this Friday, February 7th.


German loot stored in church at Ellingen, Germany found by troops of the U.S. Third Army, 4/24/1945
National Archives Identifier: 5757187


The film tells the story of the Monuments Men—a group of curators, art historians, artists, architects and archivists from the Allied nations who volunteered to help preserve the culture of Europe by protecting its works of art. During Germany’s conquest of Europe, a Nazi party group known as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (or ERR) stole millions of paintings, manuscripts, sculptures, furniture and other cultural materials. These cultural artifacts were slated either for destruction or to be displayed in a future Fuhrermuseum. In the final months of World War II and continuing for years afterward, the Monuments Men worked to protect these treasures and return them to their rightful owners.

In the war’s aftermath, The Monuments Men were aided by the discovery of 39 photo albums created by the ERR documenting their theft. These albums also served as evidence during the Nuremburg Trials as proof of the massive Nazi art looting operations. These 39 albums are now part of the National Archives.  And recently, 3 additional albums taken by individual US troops during the war have been donated to the National Archives by Robert Edsel, author of the book on which the upcoming film is based and founder of the Monuments Men Foundation. One of these photo albums is on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC through February 20th.


M. SGT Harold Maus of Scranton, PA is pictured with the Durer engraving, found among other art treasures at Merker. 5/13/45.
National Archives Identifier 5757194


But you don’t have to go to Washington, DC to see that album and others that document the work of the Monuments Men. They have been added to DocsTeach!

Just visit and search “monuments men” to find documents and photographs about their exploits.  There you can find photos of the discovery and the return of works by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Manet.   In addition, selections are highlighted from volumes compiled as evidence for the Nuremburg trials.

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) Photograph Album Number Fifteen, National Archives Identifier: 7349319

Cover Page of Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) Photograph Album Number Fifteen,
National Archives Identifier: 7349319


Art Treasures, Vol 2 National Archives Identifier: 7582748

Selection from Art Treasures, Vol 2
National Archives Identifier: 7582748


For more information about the Monuments Men and related records at the National Archives:


In celebration, the National Archives has teamed up with other federal agencies and cultural institutions to provide digital content, including resources for teachers.

Along with the Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, we pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society on The site includes teaching resources, exhibits and collections, images, audio and video, and a list of upcoming events.

Specifically for teachers, we share several online learning activities from our DocsTeach site:

Do you know what this document is? A famous person and event are revealed in the DocsTeach activity that features it.

Many related primary sources can be found on DocsTeach as well.

The National Archives also highlights:

Our partner organizations share valuable resources too, like Legends of Tuskegee from the National Park Service and Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project from the Library of Congress.

You can find these resources and more at

Earlier this month we released a new version of our DocsTeach App for iPad, including support for iOS7 and iPad Mini!

You can use the app to share primary source-based learning activities from with your students to access on their iPads. Choose activities from our ever-expanding collection, or design your own assignments. All you have to do is create a classroom on and share the auto-generated code with your students.

Just follow these steps:

1) Log in to on your computer. (DocsTeach is a Flash-based site, so you won’t be able to do this on your own iPad.) Find activities that you want your students to complete. Bookmark each by clicking on the star; this saves them in your account. Star

Or create new activities yourself using our activity-creation tools. To learn more about registering for a free account or creating activities on DocsTeach, watch our video tutorials.

2) Whether you found or made the activities, click on “Account” and place them in a “classroom.” Assign to ClassroomWatch our classrooms tutorial for step-by-step instructions.

3) Each classroom you create will have its own classroom code. To get your code (when logged in to DocsTeach on your computer), click on the name of the classroom with the activities you want to share. Once in that classroom, you will see text at the top that includes your classroom’s unique sharing URL and a six-digit alphanumeric code for the DocsTeach iPad App.Classroom URL and Code

4) Direct your students to open the DocsTeach app on their iPads and type in your classroom code. DocsTeach App Home ScreenThey will see the activities that you put into your classroom and can do them on their iPads!

Have you created classrooms for assignments, group work, or assessments? We’d love to know what works with your students! and the DocsTeach App for iPad are made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives.