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

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

Dorothy Wickenden. Scribner, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6073-5

New Yorker executive editor Wickenden (Nothing Daunted) expertly weaves together the biographies of “co-conspirators and intimate friends” Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward in this novelistic history. When Wright, the younger sister of abolitionist Lucretia Mott, and Seward, the wife of U.S. senator and secretary of state William Henry Seward, got to know Tubman in the early 1850s, they were already “in the process of transforming themselves from conventional homemakers into insurgents.” Wright and Seward hosted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad and helped Tubman to build and sustain a free Black community in Auburn, N.Y., where all three women lived from 1857 on. Wickenden details the links between the suffragist and abolitionist movements in the U.S., noting that women like Seward and Wright, by virtue of being in the private sphere, had a moral clarity about the evil of slavery that male politicians lacked, and describes how post-Civil War tensions over whether Black men or white women should get the vote first divided the suffragist movement. Through extensive research and fluid writing, Wickenden rescues Wright and Seward from obscurity and provides a new perspective on Tubman’s life and work. This is an essential addition to the history of American progressivism. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Mar.)