On the Life of Black Abolitionist Anna Murray Douglass

“She drew around herself a certain reserve,” Rosetta Douglass Sprague wrote of her mother, Anna (Murray) Douglass, one that “forbade any very near approach to her” by her contemporaries or by modern historians. As the wife of one of the most important men of the nineteenth century, Anna Douglass could not and cannot escape notice for her part in American history. After all, during the forty-four years of their marriage Frederick Douglass lived an extraordinary life, and so did Anna. Yet she had to do so largely in response to his decisions, while also navigating complicated demands upon herself as a working-class Black woman in an upwardly mobile family, as a woman raising five children with a largely absent husband, as a woman subjected to constant public and judgmental scrutiny, and as a woman tasked with much of the unseen labor of fighting racism, sometimes in conflict with her own husband.

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