There is only one known image of Lucy Higgs Nichols, a Civil War nurse who escaped slavery. In this captivating photograph dated to 1898, the elderly Lucy is the sole female and the only person of color. She stands stately in the middle of a large group of war veterans at a reunion that she diligently attended every year. Some of these soldiers were from the Indiana 23rd Regiment, the men who fiercely advocated for her Civil War nurse's pension in the 1890s. Her story is remarkable—a journey from enslavement in Tennessee, to freedom and service among the ranks of the Union Army, and finally to independence and national recognition from the press, the Grand Army of the Republic, and even Congress. Despite considerable obstacles and unimaginable pain, Lucy achieved notoriety, nobility, and self-sufficiency in a post-Civil War era that often denied black Americans and women justice and opportunity.
Eileen Yanoviak (PhD, Art History, 2017) is the Director of the Carnegie Center for Art and History, a department of the New Albany-Floyd County Library in Indiana. The Carnegie Center for Art and History is an important cultural resource in the area that promotes the visual arts and presents, collects, and preserves regional history. Among its signature programs are the Public Art Project series and the exhibition "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad." She has worked in museums in the south for more than fifteen years.