The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights

Scribner. Mar. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9781476760735. $30. HIST
With this latest work, journalist and author Wickenden (Nothing Daunted) follows the lives of three friends and heroes of the women’s rights and abolitionist movements, and describes the ways they impacted both causes. Wickenden effectively argues that these two movements, which were gathering steam during the mid-1800s, did not exist independently of one another; rather, they were intertwined. The author’s accessible, engaging writing highlights the life of Frances Seward (1805–65), whose husband William H. Seward, secretary of state to Abraham Lincoln, is also given careful consideration. Along with the Sewards, the book also chronicles the lives of close friends Martha Coffin Wright, a feminist and abolitionist, and Harriet Tubman, who was born enslaved in Maryland and left a lasting legacy after escaping slavery and establishing the Underground Railroad. The author effectively places Seward, Wright, and Tubman in historical context. Accounts of Tubman’s life in the Underground Railroad and as a scout in the Union army shine particularly brightly, narrated like the daring exploits they were.
VERDICT Filling a gap in the telling of women’s and abolitionist history, this highly readable book gives these three women their due. Wickenden’s deft touch will allow this book to appeal to a wide audience.
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