Between 1863 and 1871, Harriet M. Buss of Sterling, Massachusetts, taught former slaves in three different regions of the South, in coastal South Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina. A white, educated Baptist woman, she initially saw herself as on a mission to the freedpeople of the Confederacy but over time developed a shared mission with her students and devoted herself to training the next generation of Black teachers.
The geographical and chronological reach of her letters is uncommon for a woman in the Civil War era. In each place she worked, she taught in a different type of school and engaged with different types of students, so the subjects she explored in her letters illuminate a remarkably broad history of race and religion in America. Her experiences also offer an inside perspective of the founding of Shaw University, an important historically Black university. Now available to specialists and general readers alike for the first time in My Work Among the Freedmen: The Civil War and Reconstruction Letters of Harriet M. Buss (U Virginia Press, 2021), her correspondence offers an extensive view of the Civil War and Reconstruction era rarely captured in a single collection.