REVIEWS and conjecture to capture as much as possible about Mary's inner life. For instance, as Mary cared for Anne Jean Lyman, who suffered from dementia, Catherine Robbins wrote a letter to her niece, Susan Lesley, imagining the ``the personal toll'' of caring for an ill woman (170). Mary's personal feelings remain unknown, but Nathans analyzes this letter, not to reach any conclusions about Robbins, but instead to shed light on how Mary may have felt. This approach, unfortunately, has its limits. Toward the end of To Free a Family, the reader is left wondering what became of Mary's other son, Frank. Did Mary and Frank ever reunite? If not, how did she cope with that? If nothing else, the reality that she likely never saw Frank again underscores Nathans's larger point: Reconstituting families in postslavery America was an arduous, and sometimes futile, mission. Nathans's superbly written, well-researched, and lively narrative of Mary Walker's journey deepens our understanding of enslaved African American women's experiences. No longer can we know of only a trio of formerly enslaved, heroic African American women: Tubman, Truth, and Jacobs. Mary Walker's story fits alongside theirs, and there are still more stories to tell.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Feb 6, 2013
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