Becomes a popular hostess in Washington social circles

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was born to a wealthy slave-holding family in southern Maryland in 1817. When she was a young girl, one of the family's slaves murdered her father. From that point on, Greenhow strongly opposed the movement to abolish (put an end to) slavery and grant equal rights to black Americans.

Spying "was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect."

Rose O'Neal Greenhow.

(Reproduced by permission of Duke University, Special Collections Library.)

As a young woman, Greenhow married a wealthy Southern gentleman and moved to Washington, D.C. She loved to entertain, so she and her husband threw frequent dinner parties. The guests at these social events often included members of the U.S. Congress and foreign diplomats. Over time, Greenhow developed a wide circle of friends that in-eluded many important political figures, such as former President James Buchanan (1791-1868). She remained a popular hostess even after her husband died in the mid-1800s.

Washington was the site of heated political debate during this time. The Northern and Southern regions of the country had been arguing about a number of issues, including slavery, for many years. By 1861, this ongoing dispute had convinced several Southern states to secede from (leave) the United States and attempt to form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. Greenhow considered herself a Southerner and supported the Confederate states' decision to secede. But Northern political leaders were determined to keep the Southern states in the Union. Before long, the two sides went to war.

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