Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery
Reviewed by Gwen Gosney Erickson
By Janet Willen and Marjorie Gann. Tundra Books, 2015. 216 pages. $21.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Many books have been written on the history of anti-slavery work—both for adult audiences and for young people. Publications often make mention of Quaker women, such as Lucretia Mott, and African American women, such as Sojourner Truth. These women are both relatively well known among Friends and represent the intersection of race and gender in the struggle for justice and freedom. What is so refreshing about this latest book on the topic of women working against slavery is that it introduces us to newer and less well-known voices and connects the struggles of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work in the twentieth century and today.
Through the examples of 14 women, Willen and Gann provide a more global view of women’s work against slavery. Some names, like Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe, will be well known to those who equate anti-slavery work with reform movements in the United States’s antebellum period. Other less famous names and inspiring stories document how the struggle against slavery is ongoing around the world (and within the United States). British Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick (1769–1831) is joined by 13 other women from all walks of life—some from relative positions of privilege and others who themselves escaped from slavery to continue the struggle on behalf of others.
Heartbreaking stories of abuse and courage are sensitively presented in a way that is appropriate for all ages. The book is marketed as juvenile literature but recommended for adult readers as well. The 14 women include people from a variety of races, cultures, nations, and time periods. These life stories engage readers and lend themselves to discussions about ways we might continue to work against slavery in our own times.