An overlooked feminist pioneer gets her due.
In the pantheon of women's-rights activists, Martha C. Wright has been overshadowed in the history books by her sister, Lucretia Mott, and her friends Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Penney and Livingston (the latter of whom is one of Wright's descendants) redress the balance here. The authors have a firm grasp on the innumerable small incidents and anecdotes that make Wright's life a window into the reform culture of 19th-century America. As a prolific correspondent and a tart writer, she is easily recognizable as being of the same free-thinking generation as Emerson (whom she knew) and Melville (whom she read). Like Mott, Wright was raised a Quaker; however, at an early age she was expelled for marrying a non-Quaker. Her first husband, Captain Peter Pelham, from a Southern slaveholding family, died young, leaving her with a daughter to raise alone. Her second husband, David Wright, was a progressive lawyer (though not progressive enough to embrace all of Martha’s feminist ideas). Wright was ideally placed, through her family and social connections, to meet the entire network of Northern progressives: not only her feminist companions, but also Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison (whose son married one of Martha's daughters), Harriet Tubman, and others. After the Civil War (Martha, abandoning the principle of non-resistance, ardently supported the Union side, for which her son William fought in the Battle of Gettysburg), Wright became involved in the complicated factional politics that split the suffrage movement between moderates and radicals. For example, Wright had the following to say about free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull: "I don't understand Mrs. Woodhull's theories, but she has a right to her opinions and her expressions of them."
This thoughtful, well-written biography brings suffragist Lucretia Mott's fascinating younger sister to life.