The Story of Margaret Garner

Among the most wrenching accounts of an enslaved American, the story of Margaret Garner reveals the consequences of bondage, particularly of sexual violence and violation. Seeking freedom through infanticide, Margaret Garner intended to prevent her two-year-old daughter from being returned to an all too familiar future of sexual slavery when in 1856 she escaped her enslavement in Kentucky by crossing the Ohio River into Cincinnati with her husband and children. Despite, or perhaps because of the horrific details of Margaret Garner’s brave resistance, much can be learned from her story. Although largely forgotten until Toni Morrison’s recent revivals, Margaret Garner’s life provides a foundation from which to discuss resistance for all women in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Most recently, the story has been revived in the opera Margaret Garner for which Toni Morrison wrote the libretto, and Richard Danielpour composed the music. Commissioned by the Cincinnati Opera, in collaboration with opera companies in Detroit and Philadelphia, Margaret Garner opened in 2005 to commemorate the one year anniversary of the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.


The Garners escaped as a family from enslavement in Kentucky by crossing the frozen Ohio River in 1856
Mural on the Flood Wall in Covington, KY

From Conference to BookGendered Resistance Anthology


Presenters, Artists & Organizers
Reception at the Freedom Center – The co-editors, Delores M. Walters and Mary E. Frederickson, bottom right

Vernon's GR Conf Image

Image by Vernon Walters

This anthology of women’s opposition to slavery and violence in historical, contemporary, and global contexts began in 2005 as a symposium also titled Gendered Resistance co-sponsored by Miami of Ohio University where Mary E. Frederickson was a history faculty member and Delores M. Walters was a community research specialist at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Over the course of three exciting days, scholars and artists presented their work on slavery and resistance in the form of presentations, performances, and exhibitions to an eager audience of students and faculty from across the region.

A link to a University of Illinois Press blog about Gendered Resistance can be found at



Women, Slavery and the Legacy of Margaret Garner

  • Co-edited by Mary E. Frederickson and Delores M. Walters
  • Foreword by Darlene Clark Hine
  • Introductory essay on Margaret Garner by Delores M. Walters
  • Gendered Resistance is an interdisciplinary “resistance reader” on women’s opposition to historical, contemporary and global slavery. The ten provocative essays herein thematically centered around the story of Margaret Garner, convey historical and cultural representations of Black and other women of color in the United States and in such disparate places as Brazil, India and Yemen.
  • Written for undergraduates, graduate students, scholars, activists, and artists, these stories – some familiar, some as yet untold — have much to tell us about our lives today.