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  • Radical Friend: Amy Kirby Post and Her Activist Worlds by Nancy A. Hewitt
  • Thomas D. Hamm
Radical Friend: Amy Kirby Post and Her Activist Worlds. By Nancy A. Hewitt. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. xvi + 413 pp. Notes, bibliography and index. $39.95.

Anyone studying antebellum American reform and reformers, especially in the areas of antislavery, women's rights, spiritualism, and liberal religion, will make the acquaintance of Amy Kirby Post (1802–1889). With her husband Isaac, she was ubiquitous in the interconnected world of radical reformers from the 1830s to the Civil War. And the Posts presented a priceless gift to historians by conscientiously preserving their incoming correspondence, a massive collection of documents that are housed at the University of Rochester and, better yet, is now available on-line. William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Lucretia Mott appear regularly, and it was the discovery of letters from Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post that allowed historians to establish beyond doubt that Jacobs was Linda Brent, the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861).

Amy Kirby was born into a deeply rooted Quaker family on Long Island—relatives included Seamans, Willises, Motts, and Robbinses, and Elias Hicks was a neighbor. As a young woman, Amy went to live in Ledyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where her older sister Hannah had settled with her husband Isaac Post. When the Hicksite Separation came, the Kirbys and Posts sided firmly with the Hicksites. And when Hannah Kirby Post died in 1827, Amy married Isaac Post. In 1836 the Posts moved to the growing city of Rochester, where they would spend the rest of their lives.

In Rochester, the Posts threw themselves into reform activism. Amy became an active member of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. They welcomed Frederick Douglass's decision to settle in Rochester, although tensions later developed between them over questions of antislavery tactics. Amy was present at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention in 1848 and signed its Declaration of Sentiments. She befriended the fugitive slaves Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs, and became a good friend of Sojourner Truth. By 1845, the Posts had withdrawn from Genesee Yearly Meeting, which they considered insufficiently committed to radical reform, but by 1848 they were part of the most radical of Hicksite separatist groups, the Waterloo Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends.

It was as spiritualists, however, that Isaac and Amy Post became national figures. Isaac and Amy gave a home to the Fox sisters, who became [End Page 51] national celebrities in 1847 with their claims that they could communicate with the spirits of the dead through a complicated series of rappings. In the 1850s, Spiritualism became a religious movement with deep ties to women's rights and other reform movements. But it also was deeply divisive, creating a rift between the Posts and Frederick Douglass.

No one is better qualified to undertake Amy Post's biography than Nancy Hewitt, whose works have been devoted to exploring the nexus of antebellum reforms that found so many outlets in western New York. Although the Post Papers are a massive corpus, we have relatively few of Amy's own letters, since she preserved incoming correspondence, not her own. Hewitt has been exhaustive in her exploration of sources. The result is an important contribution to Quaker, reform, and women's history.

Thomas D. Hamm
Earlham College


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