Abolitionist Leaders | Social Sciences Reviews

William C. Kashatus writes an essential work on the Underground Railroad. Dorothy Wickenden fills a gap in the telling of women's and abolitionist history.

William StillredstarKashatus, William C. William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia. Univ. of Notre Dame. Apr. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780268200367. $35. BIOG
William Still (1821–1902), the famed abolitionist known as the "Angel of Philadelphia," worked tirelessly from his Philadelphia home coordinating transportation, passing information, and raising funds to assist enslaved people in escaping. He coordinated efforts between the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, consisting primarily of white Quakers, and its Black-led Vigilance Committee, of which Still was the chairman. As part of his work, Still interviewed nearly a thousand formerly enslaved people, recording over 20 pieces of information (e.g., name, age, skin color, place of origin, mode of transport), with hopes that this rich database would help reunite separated families. In the first scholarly biography of Still, Kashatus (history, Luzerne County Community Coll.; Before Chappaquiddick) highlights the critical roles Still and other Black Americans played along the entire Underground Railroad, and the risks they took to aid enslaved people. A penetrating analysis of Still’s interviews reveals new and important insights into the enslaved people who made the journey into freedom. VERDICT Based on extensive primary research, this biography adds a much-needed layer to existing scholarship about the era. An essential work that is a must-read for those interested in the Underground Railroad and Black history in the U.S.—Chad E. Statler, Westlake Porter P.L., Westlake, OH

The AgitatorsredstarWickenden, Dorothy. 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.—Stacy Shaw, Denver

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