Laura Smith Haviland, born in 1808 in southern Ontario, to American parents. Her father was a Quaker minister, and Laura grew up with the Quaker teachings that comdemned slavery. Her family moved to New York when Laura was a child, settling in the western part of the state. At sixteen, Laura was married to Charles Haviland, also a Quaker whose father was a minister. The couple settled in Michigan and had eight children. Laura and her extended family left the Quaker church in the 1830s, upon becoming more active in the abolitionist movement than their church allowed.
In 1837, the Havilands founded “The Raisin Institute”, the first racially integrated school in Michigan. The school was originally designed to teach children practical skills, (such as farming and household chores) but later added an academic curriculum as well.
Haviland began to become an active participant in helping slaves escape to freedom. She was an associate and friend of Cincinnati-based abolitionist Levi Coffin and lived with the Coffin family from 1847-1852, with brief trips home to Michigan. It was during this period that Laura Haviland helped John "Felix" White, a former slave from Boone County, to attempt a rescue of his wife, Jane and their five children, who were slaves of Benjamin Stephens of Rabbit Hash.
Haviland laid the groundwork for a rescue attempt, with the help of emancipated African Americans, the Barkshire and Edgerton families who lived in Rising Sun, IN. Haviland and Frances Barkshire, frequently described as “almost white” in appearance, took a trip to Rabbit Hash, pretending to pick berries. Haviland identified herself as the aunt of the other woman when she visited the Stephens plantation in her attempt to contact Jane. Though she met Jane, several of the children were not there, so an escape was delayed. She again planned to help the family, but was warned off the attempt by William Allen, a friend of John “Felix” White, who was at the time still enslaved in Boone County. Allen explained that there were patrollers on the river, looking for counterfeiters, who were active in the area at that time. Ultimately, an escape attempt was later made, though Haviland was away at the time of the attempt.
Laura Smith Haviland continued to help the cause of freedom, at great person risk, even confronting dangerous slave hunters, who ultimately put a price on her head. She served as a conductor, taking escaped slaves all the way to Canada, in some cases. Her home in Michigan served as a station on the underground railroad for many years.
In later years, she helped care for the wounded in the Civil War, opened an orphanage and fought for women's sufferage. She remained a tireless activist for social reform up until her death in 1898.