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Publisher's Summary

An LA Times Best Book of the Year, Christopher Award Winner, and Chautauqua Prize Finalist!  

“Engrossing... examines the major events of the mid 19th century through the lives of three key figures in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.” —Smithsonian 

From the executive editor of The New Yorker, a riveting, provocative, and revelatory history of abolition and women’s rights, told through the story of three women—Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Wright—in the years before, during and after the Civil War.

The Agitators tells the story of America before the Civil War through the lives of three women who advocated for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights as the country split apart. Harriet Tubman, Martha Coffin Wright, and Frances A. Seward are the examples we need right now—another time of divisiveness and dissension over our nation’s purpose ‘to form a more perfect union.’” —Hillary Rodham Clinton

In the 1850s, Harriet Tubman, strategically brilliant and uncannily prescient, rescued some seventy enslaved people from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and shepherded them north along the underground railroad. One of her regular stops was Auburn, New York, where she entrusted passengers to Martha Coffin Wright, a Quaker mother of seven, and Frances A. Seward, the wife of William H. Seward, who served over the years as governor, senator, and secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union Army in South Carolina as a nurse and spy, and took part in a spectacular river raid in which she helped to liberate 750 slaves from several rice plantations. 

Wright, a “dangerous woman” in the eyes of her neighbors, worked side by side with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to organize women’s rights and anti-slavery conventions across New York State, braving hecklers and mobs when she spoke. Frances Seward, the most conventional of the three friends, hid her radicalism in public, while privately acting as a political adviser to her husband, pressing him to persuade President Lincoln to move immediately on emancipation. 

The Agitators opens in the 1820s, when Tubman is enslaved and Wright and Seward are young homemakers bound by law and tradition, and ends after the war. Many of the most prominent figures of the era—Lincoln, William H. Seward, Frederick Douglass, Daniel Webster, Charles Sumner, John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison—are seen through the discerning eyes of the protagonists. So are the most explosive political debates: about the civil rights of African Americans and women, about the enlistment of Black troops, and about opposing interpretations of the Constitution. 

Through richly detailed letters from the time and exhaustive research, Wickenden traces the second American revolution these women fought to bring about, the toll it took on their families, and its lasting effects on the country. Riveting and profoundly relevant to our own time, The Agitators brings a vibrant, original voice to this transformative period in our history.

©2021 Dorothy Wickenden. All rights reserved. (P)2021 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

What listeners say about The Agitators

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Excellent!

Remarkable history of three amazing women in the fight for equal rights for African Americans and women. Not a total history buff- I knew a little about Harriet Tubman but had never heard of Frances and Martha. The three of them deserve an important role in our country's history.
I learned ALOT of historical facts in this book. simply amazing. a must read.

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This book brought to life

Often overlooked minutia as well as an accurate representation of American history. I'd like to thank the author for taking the time to write this book.

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Not as fiery as the women themselves.

The author pulls together good information about the interconnections among these prominent women leaders, their perosnal stories and the times that shaped their leadership. It's well written and infornmative but doesn't capture the power and magnitude of their leadership. I think the book goes into too much irrelevant detail about side issues like Civil War battles and the Lincoln assassination. Narration is pedantic mostly, uneven among the three narrators.

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A wonderful story about amazing women

Addressing one of the most difficult times in American history from the viewpoint of the women who were activists and contributed on many fronts. So much that women gained in rights to participate as active citizens with independence was accomplished by the women in this book. May what they achieved continue for the future of all women in this country.

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Women’s History on Audio

I enjoyed learning of the relationships between these grand and historical Women. I liked the primary sources sprinkled throughout. Harriet’s performer was the most engaging but overall the performances were not remarkable. The best part is a good level of historical information was presented in an organized and concise fashion through anecdotes and direct quotes.