STARRED REVIEW
April 2021

The Agitators

By Dorothy Wickenden
Dorothy Wickenden invites readers to take a closer look at the path of American progress and the women who guided it.
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Former Secretary of State William Henry Seward’s name occupies a plaque outside the Cayuga County Courthouse in Auburn, New York, and the Seward family home is now a museum where visitors can learn about the statesman’s past. But it was another Seward who quietly pushed Henry toward signing the Emancipation Proclamation. His wife, Frances Seward, was the one who befriended, supported and learned from Harriet Tubman, the famous Underground Railroad conductor whose name is also mounted on that county courthouse.

Frances discouraged her husband from compromising on matters related to slavery. But as Henry ascended from the state Senate to the governorship of New York to the U.S. Senate with a position in Abraham Lincoln’s presidential Cabinet, his aspirations conflicted with his wife’s activism. Frances often felt she couldn’t be as vocal as Tubman or Martha C. Wright, who attended the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls and worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to seek women’s suffrage. But even when Frances limited her activism out of respect for Henry, she pushed him to value the greater good over his political aspirations.

In The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights, Dorothy Wickenden recounts the friendship between Seward, Wright and Tubman and the ways their influence shaped American history. Wickenden is the executive editor of The New Yorker and the bestselling author of Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West. She brings a reporter’s eye for detail to this complex history, which spans from 1821 to 1875 as Seward and Wright fight for abolition and Tubman serves on the front lines of both the Underground Railroad and the Civil War.

Wickenden’s detailed account of these women and their friendship weaves together Tubman’s escape from enslavement, the complexities of Lincoln’s early slavery policy, the beginnings of the women’s rights movement in the U.S. and their imperfect intersections. Using primary sources such as the women’s own letters, Wickenden invites readers to take a closer look at the path of American progress and the women who guided it.

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The Agitators

The Agitators

By Dorothy Wickenden
Scribner
ISBN 9781476760742

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