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Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

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In his extensive writings, Frederick Douglass revealed little about his private life. His famous autobiographies present him overcoming unimaginable trials to gain his freedom and establish his identity-all in service to his public role as an abolitionist. But in both the public and domestic spheres, Douglass relied on a complicated array of relationships with women: white In his extensive writings, Frederick Douglass revealed little about his private life. His famous autobiographies present him overcoming unimaginable trials to gain his freedom and establish his identity-all in service to his public role as an abolitionist. But in both the public and domestic spheres, Douglass relied on a complicated array of relationships with women: white and black, slave-mistresses and family, political collaborators and intellectual companions, wives and daughters. And the great man needed them throughout a turbulent life that was never so linear and self-made as he often wished to portray it. In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought illuminates the life of the famed abolitionist off the public stage. She begins with the women he knew during his life as a slave: his mother, from whom he was separated; his grandmother, who raised him; his slave mistresses, including the one who taught him how to read; and his first wife, Anna Murray, a free woman who helped him escape to freedom and managed the household that allowed him to build his career. Fought examines Douglass's varied relationships with white women-including Maria Weston Chapman, Julia Griffiths, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ottilie Assing--who were crucial to the success of his newspapers, were active in the antislavery and women's movements, and promoted his work nationally and internationally. She also considers Douglass's relationship with his daughter Rosetta, who symbolized her parents' middle class prominence but was caught navigating between their public and private worlds. Late in life, Douglass remarried to a white woman, Helen Pitts, who preserved his papers, home, and legacy for history. By examining the circle of women around Frederick Douglass, this work brings these figures into sharper focus and reveals a fuller and more complex image of the self-proclaimed "woman's rights man."


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In his extensive writings, Frederick Douglass revealed little about his private life. His famous autobiographies present him overcoming unimaginable trials to gain his freedom and establish his identity-all in service to his public role as an abolitionist. But in both the public and domestic spheres, Douglass relied on a complicated array of relationships with women: white In his extensive writings, Frederick Douglass revealed little about his private life. His famous autobiographies present him overcoming unimaginable trials to gain his freedom and establish his identity-all in service to his public role as an abolitionist. But in both the public and domestic spheres, Douglass relied on a complicated array of relationships with women: white and black, slave-mistresses and family, political collaborators and intellectual companions, wives and daughters. And the great man needed them throughout a turbulent life that was never so linear and self-made as he often wished to portray it. In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought illuminates the life of the famed abolitionist off the public stage. She begins with the women he knew during his life as a slave: his mother, from whom he was separated; his grandmother, who raised him; his slave mistresses, including the one who taught him how to read; and his first wife, Anna Murray, a free woman who helped him escape to freedom and managed the household that allowed him to build his career. Fought examines Douglass's varied relationships with white women-including Maria Weston Chapman, Julia Griffiths, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ottilie Assing--who were crucial to the success of his newspapers, were active in the antislavery and women's movements, and promoted his work nationally and internationally. She also considers Douglass's relationship with his daughter Rosetta, who symbolized her parents' middle class prominence but was caught navigating between their public and private worlds. Late in life, Douglass remarried to a white woman, Helen Pitts, who preserved his papers, home, and legacy for history. By examining the circle of women around Frederick Douglass, this work brings these figures into sharper focus and reveals a fuller and more complex image of the self-proclaimed "woman's rights man."

54 review for Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa May

    One of the best books I've read this year. I learned so much about Frederick Douglass, about the world of abolitionism and publishing, about his family, about the women who supported him emotionally and financially throughout his life. I didn't know that he and Ida B. Wells worked together on her anti-lynching campaign toward the end of his life. I knew nothing about his second marriage, other than the scandal it caused because Helen Pitts was white. Excellently written, meticulously researched One of the best books I've read this year. I learned so much about Frederick Douglass, about the world of abolitionism and publishing, about his family, about the women who supported him emotionally and financially throughout his life. I didn't know that he and Ida B. Wells worked together on her anti-lynching campaign toward the end of his life. I knew nothing about his second marriage, other than the scandal it caused because Helen Pitts was white. Excellently written, meticulously researched and documented, such a compelling read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

    1. Lots of typos, not the author's fault I'm sure. Good copy editors are hard to find. 2. I spent a lot of the time while reading wondering if/how a person of color would have written this book differently. A lot of the phrases used (and conclusions drawn) made it glaringly obvious (to me) that a person of color was not the author. I made a point of not looking her up online for a photo until I finished the book. Sure enough, there she is on the Le Moyne College website. I have read a lot of hist 1. Lots of typos, not the author's fault I'm sure. Good copy editors are hard to find. 2. I spent a lot of the time while reading wondering if/how a person of color would have written this book differently. A lot of the phrases used (and conclusions drawn) made it glaringly obvious (to me) that a person of color was not the author. I made a point of not looking her up online for a photo until I finished the book. Sure enough, there she is on the Le Moyne College website. I have read a lot of history books, and this is the first one I've read one where speculating about the author's ethnic background was so distracting to me because of the way it was written. 3. I learned a lot about Frederick Douglass that I never knew, or even bothered to think about, previously. That was much appreciated, and I have several more books to check out from the Bibliography in the back. Recommended only for 19th century US scholars, and hard core history geeks.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    *This was a Goodreads Giveaway* I didn't know much about FD before I read this book, so I appreciated learning about him and his life in the context of women. I thought it was interesting to see the evidence of intersectionality in the context of his relationship to the suffragists while disheartening to learn that the women's rights activists did not support him as much as he did them. While organized well, the book did often drag on, and the end was a struggle. I'm also curious how this book wo *This was a Goodreads Giveaway* I didn't know much about FD before I read this book, so I appreciated learning about him and his life in the context of women. I thought it was interesting to see the evidence of intersectionality in the context of his relationship to the suffragists while disheartening to learn that the women's rights activists did not support him as much as he did them. While organized well, the book did often drag on, and the end was a struggle. I'm also curious how this book would've been different had it been written by a black woman.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    I read Blight’s biography of Douglass....last year? And wanted to know more about all the women in his life. This book delivered.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Parrott

    Excellent biography of Frederick Douglass and the women in his life. Readers see the complexity of family life, friendships and society at large. My copy was a gift through Goodreads First Reads.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Raven

    What a fantastic and insightful book! Anyone interested in Frederick Douglass, or history in general should read this!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This is an excellent read! Fought is a thorough researcher and really brings out aspects of Douglass' life that have rarely been explored. I highly recommend this book!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    Excellent, well-research biography of Douglass focusing on the many, many women in his life. Very interesting and written in an engaging style.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sobriquet

    I wanted to like this more than I did. I couldn't quite decide what the focus of this book was supposed to be. It was at times slightly repetitive and in places it seems to go on a tangent into issues such as the Douglass ancestry or the black rights movement and Douglass's newspaper. These were sometimes interesting and sometimes not, the history of Frederick's mother's family felt like the writer included it as a proof of diligent research rather than because it would be interesting or easily I wanted to like this more than I did. I couldn't quite decide what the focus of this book was supposed to be. It was at times slightly repetitive and in places it seems to go on a tangent into issues such as the Douglass ancestry or the black rights movement and Douglass's newspaper. These were sometimes interesting and sometimes not, the history of Frederick's mother's family felt like the writer included it as a proof of diligent research rather than because it would be interesting or easily understood by the reader. I do not say that it should not have been included at all but rather simplified and less confusingly related. I had read Douglass's first autobiography and the introduction to it which surmised his life but that was it. I think this book would be easier read by those who already have a more in depth knowledge. I was most interested in the chapters about Anna Douglass, his first wife and his daughter Rosetta. However information about these women is rather sparse and the writer seemed to spend a lot of time reinforcing her conclusions without really justifying them. That Frederick as a child/young man gravitated towards women who could show him affection, that his first wife was reserved, kept a clean house, baked Maryland biscuits, and despite her illiteracy retained the exclusive affection her husband was fairly hammered into my head. The writer dismisses other biographers of Douglass as suggesting his unfaithfulness because they were unwilling to acknowledge a black women as attractive or felt that her illiteracy barred her from having a intellectual relationship with him that he then found with other women. This may have been the case but it felt rather that the writer had taken up the baton of vindicating Anna's treatment by previous biographers and marshaled evidence to support that cause. Overall, while there is some interesting information and analysis in this book I don't think that I would recommend it for a general reader as a beginning, more as an accompaniment.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kristie Kuhl

  11. 4 out of 5

    Debra Glassco

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marv

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cmc

  15. 4 out of 5

    Terrance Yount

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Kho

  17. 5 out of 5

    Raven Profit

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shaun Henderson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Cali

  20. 5 out of 5

    Louis

  21. 4 out of 5

    M R

  22. 5 out of 5

    David F. Walker

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christine Sears

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura Greenfield

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Galbreath

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy Lafleur Meyers

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jo

  31. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

  32. 4 out of 5

    Lally

  33. 5 out of 5

    James

  34. 5 out of 5

    Ava M.

  35. 4 out of 5

    Drew Stiling

  36. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Wong Schirmer

  37. 4 out of 5

    Rkraai

  38. 5 out of 5

    Ken

  39. 4 out of 5

    Pennyla125

  40. 4 out of 5

    Terri

  41. 4 out of 5

    Billie Cotterman

  42. 5 out of 5

    Devin

  43. 5 out of 5

    John Rymer

  44. 4 out of 5

    Jill

  45. 4 out of 5

    Shaunterria

  46. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  47. 4 out of 5

    Zacarias Rivera, Jr.

  48. 4 out of 5

    Mara

  49. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  50. 4 out of 5

    Rosalyn Leigh

  51. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  52. 4 out of 5

    Noah

  53. 4 out of 5

    Maiamali

  54. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Kuder

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