Doug Peterson appears at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

Ellen’s teeth chattered, and she pulled the thin blanket around her shoulders. She was cold, and she was terrified. In the dim glow of a single candle, she sat on a stool and watched her husband William emerge from the darkness with a pair of scissors in his right hand. They were the scissors that she had used for so many years as a seamstress. Now they were being turned against her, like so many things.

“Are you sure?” William asked.

Ellen ran a hand through her long, black hair. Her hair was her glory, her pride, and without it she would wear shame upon her head. But she had no choice. It had to be done. The Lord would understand.

“I’m sure.”

This is how The Vanishing Woman begins–with Ellen Craft’s hair being cut short, the first step of her transformation. Ellen Craft was a slave who escaped in 1848 by posing as a white MAN, while her husband William posed as her slave.

For the past couple of years, actress Jennifer Goran and I have brought Ellen’s story to schools, libraries, and museums, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Indianapolis. We recently put the performance on video, and you can see highlights from the “Meet the Vanishing Woman” program at the link below. Check it out!

Meet the Vanishing Woman Highlight Video

By Doug Peterson

Buy The Vanishing Woman



History by the Slice