I first learned about Douglass’ Women by Jewell Parker Rhodes from a former college professor at Hampton University. I’d run into her at a play called The Greater Love presented at the 40th Street Stage in Norfolk (now closed) where a friend of mine was portraying the daughter of iconic abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. Having gone simply to support a friend, I had no previous knowledge of the private life of the iconic man who represented a symbol of pride and determination during a time when most blacks were slaves.
What little knowledge I did have was directly from Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a profound account to the events that lead to a former slave becoming a world renowned activist in the fight to end slavery. Dr. Barnes, my English professor recommended that I read the book that inspired the play.
Needless to say, I was shocked and enthralled by the narrative (no pun intended) of Rhodes’ account of Douglass’ personal life and purported love affair with 19th-century German feminist and abolitionist, Ottilie Assing. At times I even found it difficult to imagine such a respected historical figure having a personal life trifled with adultery and scandal all while dedicating his life to such a noble cause.
However, after getting past the initial shock, I found that this book was not so such about Frederick Douglass’ alleged adultery but the powerful women in his life that not many people realize existed. Without the help from his first wife, Anna Murray, Douglass (or Bailey as he was then) may have never fled to freedom. Yet, without discrediting the prolific value of his work, Frederick Douglass still proved human. For Ottilie Assing, her love for the abolitionist was grounded in a commonality of interest and attraction. Still, there is no denying her overall efforts to end a horrendous era, not just in American history but the world’s.
Douglass’ Women is a story not just for avid historical fiction readers, but an amazing read for anyone who loves a great plot with shocking twist! Simply put, this story is not about a hero but a human. Therefore, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books about real people with historical context and a bit of tragedy.
Review by Trinika A.