Curator Conversations: Secret Agency

Time Period
1861 to 1876
Media Type
Black History
Civil War
Military History
Politics & Government
Women's History
Brittany Hutchinson

In this series, VMHC curatorial staff bring exclusive member-only programs to you on a variety of interesting topics. To see upcoming events in this series, please visit

Secret Agency: Black Women Spies in the Civil War (June 14, 2021): In this program the VMHC’s new Curator Brittany Hutchinson examines the lives of two free Black women, Mary Jane Richards Denman (Mary Bowser) and Mary Touvestre, who operated as spies for the United States by moonlighting as enslaved women in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Both women understood that their race and gender would situate them within reach of privileged information and protect them from detection. Both women also knew that to be caught could result in their execution. Through “centering Black women to augment discourse” we can begin to understand how they leveraged the hypervisibility/invisibility of Black women in white Southern society to effectively undermine the Confederacy.