A thrilling triple biography of fiercely impressive women, Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Coffin Wright, who fought together across racial and class lines to expand rights in America for the dispossessed. Tubman's brave exploits on the Underground Railroad are well detailed, here, as are her valiant scouting trips for the Union army during the Civil War. Seward and Wright were staunch abolitionists who helped Tubman shelter her escapees in their own homes, as well as suffragists who worked closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to get women the vote. Despite their various fears and insecurities, these women showed up for the fight, and our world is better for it. Inspiring, and sure to be on all the best lists for the year. Recommended By Jennifer K., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Nothing Daunted, The Agitators chronicles the revolutionary activities of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Wright: three unlikely collaborators in the quest for abolition and women's rights.
In Auburn, New York, in the mid-nineteenth century, Martha Wright and Frances Seward, inspired by Harriet Tubman's slave rescues in the dangerous territory of Eastern Maryland, opened their basement kitchens as stations on the Underground Railroad.
Tubman was an illiterate fugitive slave, Wright was a middle-class Quaker mother of seven, and Seward was the aristocratic wife and moral conscience of her husband, William H. Seward, who served as Lincoln's Secretary of State. All three refused to abide by laws that denied them the rights granted to white men, and they supported each other as they worked to overturn slavery and achieve full citizenship for blacks and women.
The Agitators opens when Tubman is a slave and Wright and Seward are young women bridling against their traditional roles. It ends decades later, after Wright's and Seward's sons--and Tubman herself--have taken part in three of the defining engagements of the Civil War. Through the sardonic and anguished accounts of the protagonists, reconstructed from their letters, diaries, and public appearances, we see the most explosive debates of the time, and portraits of the men and women whose paths they crossed: Lincoln, Seward, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others. Tubman, embraced by Seward and Wright and by the radical network of reformers in western New York State, settles in Auburn and spends the second half of her life there.
With extraordinarily compelling storytelling reminiscent of Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time and David McCullough's John Adams, The Agitators brings a vivid new perspective to the epic American stories of abolition, the Underground Railroad, women's rights activism, and the Civil War.
From the intimate perspective of three friends and neighbors in mid-nineteenth century Auburn, New York--the "agitators" of the title--acclaimed author Dorothy Wickenden tells the fascinating and crucially American stories of abolition, the underground railroad, the early women's rights movement, and the Civil War.
Harriet Tubman--no-nonsense, funny, uncannily prescient, and strategically brilliant--was one of the most important conductors on the underground railroad and hid the enslaved men, women and children she rescued in the basement kitchens of Martha Wright, Quaker mother of seven, and Frances Seward, wife of Governor, then Senator, then Secretary of State William H. Seward.
Harriet worked for the Union Army in South Carolina as a nurse and spy, and took part in a river raid in which 750 enslaved people were freed from rice plantations. Martha, a "dangerous woman" in the eyes of her neighbors and a harsh critic of Lincoln's policy on slavery, organized women's rights and abolitionist conventions with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Frances gave freedom seekers money and referrals and aided in their education. The most conventional of the three friends, she hid her radicalism in public; behind the scenes, she argued strenuously with her husband about the urgency of immediate abolition.
Many of the most prominent figures in the history books--Lincoln, Seward, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison--are seen through the discerning eyes of the protagonists. So are the most explosive political debates: about women's roles and rights during the abolition crusade, emancipation, and the arming of Black troops; and about the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Beginning two decades before the Civil War, when Harriet Tubman was still enslaved and Martha and Frances were young women bound by law and tradition, The Agitators ends two decades after the war, in a radically changed United States. Wickenden brings this extraordinary period of our history to life through the richly detailed letters her characters wrote several times a week. Like Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals and David McCullough's John Adams, Wickenden's The Agitators is revelatory, riveting, and profoundly relevant to our own time.