Dorothy Wickenden with Elaine Petrocelli - The Agitators (Online Ticketed Event)

In partnership with Dominican University of California

Dorothy Wickenden

in conversation with Elaine Petrocelli

The Agitators

Tues., March 29 • 5:30pm PT 

Live Online • $28

This event will be broadcast live and does not require registration to attend. To view, please click the "Watch Here" button at the time of the event, or subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive a ten-minute reminder.


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.

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.

Dorothy Wickenden is the author of Nothing Daunted and The Agitators and has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. She also writes for the magazine and is the moderator of its weekly podcast The Political Scene. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Wickenden was national affairs editor at Newsweek from 1993-1995, and before that was the longtime executive editor at The New Republic. She lives with her husband in Westchester, New York.

Elaine Petrocelli is the founder and president of Book Passage, where she and her colleagues have been bringing writers and readers together for over 45 years. Book Passage stores are in Corte Madera California and The San Francisco Ferry Building. Customers from down the street and across the nation shop online at Elaine and the Book Passage staff work with a wide variety of community organizations including local schools, libraries, writers’ groups, colleges, festivals, business and non-profits groups.  These community efforts include classes in writing, language and culture for children and adults as well as writers’ conferences, and mentoring opportunities. Authors tell us that their experiences at Book Passage have been crucial to their success.  The Book Passage Children’s Specialists offer diverse programs for children of all ages.  A group of Book Passage teens are about to publish their fourth novel. Book Passage has been privileged to sponsor events with three Presidents and a diverse group of world-famous authors as well as writers at the beginning of their careers. For many years, Book Passage has been bringing authors and leaders together with our customers to discuss social justice and work for much needed changes. In 2020, Book Passage launched the online series “Conversations with Authors” . As the pandemic recedes, this series continues to be watched and supported by thousands of customers across the world.


Dorothy Wickenden photo by Jayme Grodi