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Beyond the Book

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 5 illus., 3 maps, notes, bibl., index

ISBN  978-0-8078-3408-4
Published: October 2010

Hearts Beating for Liberty

Women Abolitionists in the Old Northwest

By Stacey M. Robertson

Challenging traditional histories of abolition, this book shifts the focus away from the East to show how the women of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin helped build a vibrant antislavery movement in the Old Northwest.

Stacey Robertson argues that the environment of the Old Northwest--with its own complicated history of slavery and racism--created a uniquely collaborative and flexible approach to abolitionism. Western women helped build this local focus through their unusual and occasionally transgressive activities. They plunged into Liberty Party politics, vociferously supported a Quaker-led boycott of slave goods, and tirelessly aided fugitives and free blacks in their communities. Western women worked closely with male abolitionists, belying the notion of separate spheres that characterized abolitionism in the East. The contested history of race relations in the West also affected the development of abolitionism in the region, necessitating a pragmatic bent in their activities. Female antislavery societies focused on eliminating racist laws, aiding fugitive slaves, and building and sustaining schools for blacks. This approach required that abolitionists of all stripes work together, and women proved especially adept at such cooperation.

About the Author

Stacey Robertson is the Oglesby Professor of American Heritage at Bradley University. She is author of Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist.


“This book…sheds light on two critical issues in U.S. history. It adds valuable information to our conceptualization of the abolition movement, and it also demonstrates the pre-Civil War foundation of women’s activism in the Old Northwest.”
--American Historical Review

"An important addition to the historiography of American abolitionism. . . .A substantive work of scholarship that enriches our understanding of the western women who participated in the antebellum abolitionist struggle."
--The Journal of American History

“A valuable addition to our understanding of abolitionism and women’s history.”
--Journal of Southern History

“A concise and significant contribution to the existing literature on abolitionism in the nineteenth-century United States.”
--Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

“[Robertson’s] findings. . . are very interesting for what they tell about women in abolition. . . . This book is valuable for what it adds to the story of American abolition.”
--Journal of American Ethnic History

"Stacey Robertson's analysis of midwestern abolitionism is more expansive, sophisticated, and finely drawn than those of previous scholars, particularly because of her revealing emphasis on gender and because of her recognition that our task is to see this region's reformers with reference to the abolitionist movement as a whole. She brings a persuasive and clear argument to a significant history of radical activism that has hitherto been underexplored and widely overlooked."
--James Brewer Stewart, author of Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War

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