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Douglass' Women

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  498 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Hailed as a masterpiece of historical fiction, this classic by Jewel Parker Rhodes, the bestselling author of Voodoo Dreams, examines the role of the women in Frederick Douglass' life.
Paperback, 452 pages
Published January 1st 2002 by Atria Books
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Maya B
Loved it! Outstanding fictional read! Even though this was fiction, the author did an amazing job. I only knew of Frederick Douglass as an abolitionist and a runaway slave. I like how the author focused on 2 women in his life at the time, his wife and his mistress. this book gives readers a glimpse into Mr. Douglass' personal life. The story felt so real. The fact is Frederick Douglass did have a mistress, but the way the author tells the story was mostly fiction. This book will definitely leave ...more
Mocha Girl
Oct 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In her latest novel, Douglass’ Women, Jewel Parker Rhodes travels back in history to the antebellum and Civil War era to examine the loves of Frederick Douglass. She stretches the imagination by exploring the psyche of Anna, a free woman of color, who loves Douglass almost to a fault and Ottilie Assing, a European, free-spirit who is attracted to the polished and principled Douglass.

The novel, told in chronological alternating chapter format, provides the reader a glimpse into the character and
R.K. Johnson
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful book. Ms. Rhodes managed to capture two heroine's unique voices in a single book. I am enamored with this story; never want it to end. I'll sip slowly like a sweet hot cup of tea...

I finished and it is clear, Rhodes took time studying the life of each of these women and how they related to Douglass. I enjoyed how rich each character was, and in the end found the women were very similar in so many ways. From their loves of their mothers, beliefs in the supernatural and spirit wo
This was such a good read. I found I could not put it down. I'm familiar with Frederick Douglass. I read the autobiography he wrote in high school. I also learned in college that he supported the suffragettes in their ideals of universal suffrage. So, I felt like I was familiar with his character. This novel exposed a side of him I was totally unfamiliar with. A much less savory, less honorable side. I strongly support fleshing out and adding a touch of realism to historical characters but this ...more
Pamela Greer
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: yes
Although, this is fiction..My understanding is that is based on some true aspects of Frederick Douglas life. I have always been fond of Frederick Douglas work, but never knew the dual life he led and the relationship he had with the white women while his wife who was barely literate was home having his children. Ms. Rhodes writes this story in a way that catches the readers attention where you don't really hate anyone, but feel sorry for both women. Both women gave something to Mr. Douglas and y ...more
May 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Amazing, compelling, and facinating story of two women who deeply love the same man. Unfortunately his heart belongs to politics and power. Hmmmmm! Sounds familiar. This story takes place in the 1800's, but why does it make me think of many of our recent past and current leaders?
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read in a long time. Excellent piece of historical fiction. Characters were real, believable, engaging. Time period and events alive and challenging. Wonderful group discussion after this read.
Aug 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Please read my full review on
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book completely shred my emotions all up. Rhodes did a great job bringing these two women to life. Anna and Ottilie both love Frederick Douglass but both are unsure of his love for them. I related more to Anna in every way. She was overlooked, underappreciated, and unloved by the only man she'd ever loved. I found Ottilie to be too selfish to feel sympathy for. The novel barely felt like historical fiction so I'd recommend this to any fiction lover. It'll make you feel things, mostly hatred ...more
This book was good. However, I did not like the way Frederick Bailey Douglass cheated on Anna Douglass with Ottilie.

Douglas could have made Anna's life more easier, but no.....

In the end, He didn't choose Ottilie either after the passing of Anna.

He got to big for his britches!
T.tara Turk-Haynes
Oct 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I loved the writing but ugh was this hard on the patriarchy meter.
Tracy Darity
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
4.0 stars for Douglass’ Women, by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Except from Synopsis:

Douglass' Women reimagines the lives of an American hero, Frederick Douglass, and two women -- his wife and his mistress -- who loved him and lived in his shadow. Anna Douglass, a free woman of color, was Douglass' wife of forty-four years, who bore him five children. Ottilie Assing, a German-Jewish intellectual, provided him the companionship of the mind that he needed. Hurt by Douglass' infidelity, Anna rejected his n
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
The author states that her goal is not to diminish Frederick Douglass with this book, only to show that he was human. She succeeds in doing just that, but I admit I lost some respect for him as a person based on how he treated both women (but especially Anna) and his children. Anna and Ottilie are so different. Anna keeps the family whole, she cleans the house, feeds the children and makes sure Frederick (or Freddy as she calls him although he doesn't always like it) feels comfortable. She is ve ...more
May 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Douglass’ Women
By Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ms. Rhodes is an excellent writer. Her research is nearly flawless, attest to her citations at the end of the book. Her added fiction builds a passionate, emotional story.

“Douglass’ Women” is about two very different women loving the same strong, ex-slave, abolitionist, a writer. I believe Ms. Rhodes knew Frederick Douglass had to be included in the story to understand his women. He is an escaped slave afraid of being enslaved again, even by the women in his
Trinika Abraham
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 m ...more
We read this book in anticipation of Parker Rhodes coming to work with us through the Loft's Mentorship program. I missed the discussion of this book as I am recovering from the birth of our son, and this would have been a good discussion to be a part of.

The assessment, from what I understand in post-emails and whatnot, is a sequence of curiosities / ponderings regarding what is an author's duty in regards to historical figures. I only know bits and pieces about Fredrick Douglass, so I cannot be
Jul 31, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a historical fiction about two women who are extremely important and influential in the life of Frederick Douglass. The first is Anna, his first wife, who helps Douglass escape slavery and become a free man. She bears him 5 children, and stays home to raise the children while Douglass is off doing his speeches or running from slave catchers. The second woman is Ottila Assing, a German Jew abolitionist who is Douglass' mistress for 20 years. What is especially interesting about this book ...more
Feb 04, 2011 rated it liked it
The book was an interesting read, but even though it was a work of fiction I found it somewhat hard not to take it as a work of non-fiction. Especially since the people portrayed in the book are real. I feel that though the Author tried not to remain loyal to one side or the other, in the end I really think that she was on Anna's side and made her out to be more of a likeable and pitiful person, but I supose that it is natural to lean on the side of the woman scorned. And though Ottlie had her s ...more
Dec 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
The art of historical fiction is a form of creativity that lifts still photos and dated records into the light of the present for new life. Jewel Parker Rhodes is a fore-runner in her craft and has proven such in her novel Douglass’ Women. In the 21st century Frederick Douglass is just a name in history. Ask any person of the last three generations and at best they will tell you he was a writer and/or a speaker against slavery. Ask of the women in his life and the person is more likely to draw a ...more
Diane Montondo
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I barely remember Frederick Douglass from the abolitionist movement. It was chosen for our book club because of black history month and Valentine's Day.

So I don't know much about him or his life. To read about his first wife and his longtime mistress was heartbreaking. The author reiterated something I had somewhat known to be true, about men and women and their relationships. Attraction, action, support, betrayal, responsibility, courage, obligation, depression, anxiety, compromise, miscommunic
Jul 25, 2011 added it
2003- Frederick Douglass's love life was quite complicated. This account moves back and forth between his black wife and his white mistress. Anna Murray is Douglass's wife, a free Maryland woman of color who helps him escape the South. In exchange, his marries her. However, as Douglass' fame grows, he meets a German woman named Ottilie Assing. This book portrays Frederick as a scum-bag who just wanted women to be submissive to him. Anna is whiny and annoying, even as we DO feel a bit bad for her ...more
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Super quick read. Finished it in a day and a half by the pool! I'm a history buff and lover of pop culture/celebrity gossip so I thought this title was right up my alley. As an armchair historian, I wondered how much we really know about Frederick Douglass' relationship with his wife Anna much less his infidelities.

The story is told from Anna's and Ottilie's (the other woman's) perspective in alternating chapters beginning with a quote from each. The chapters are short which helps make it a ver
Wilhelmina Jenkins
I was reluctant to read this book and I think I should have followed my instincts. Historical fiction which deals with the intimate lives of well-known people is difficult for me. It is clearly impossible for most of the book to be accurate, but,more importantly, it just didn't ring true to me. It was very well written and, once the author established the characters' voices and personalities, she maintained them very well. I'm going to have to read a more historical account of Douglass' personal ...more
Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
If you enjoy hating characters, this may be the book for you.
The story of Anna Douglass, the wife of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionsit and the story of one of his mistresses, Ottilie Assing.
I liked Anna. I disliked Ottilie, and I despised Douglass. He was portrayed as a self-centered (insert bad word), that was hungry for attention and made speeches to spread the word of what happens to slaves. It became more about him, than the cause.

If this was the goal of the author she did a phenominal
Oct 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
I loved The Douglass Women, a historical fictional account of the two women romantically involved with Frederick Douglass. His black wife and his German white mistress have decidedly different needs for him and their relationships with him showcase various parts of his personality. I loved the spare, but effectively descriptive writing style of the author, Jewel Parker Rhodes. And I enjoyed the way she was able to make me sympathize with the characters, which she createed as complicated, believa ...more
I read "Narrative" in college and had a lot of admiration for Frederick Douglass, but this book shows some of his less-becoming qualities. That said, it's always nice to read about how great people are human, too. I really liked the changing perspectives of the two women, and wound up admiring Anna's character very much. I'd never heard of her before this, but she was a wonderfully written, strong female character.
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing book and a fascinating fictional account of the women behind Frederick Douglass. The character development was excellent and it was easy to imagine it was all true. It was also hard to take sides as each of the three main characters, Douglass, his mistress and his wife, were so easy to understand. I loved how she wrote from each persons perspective, changing her voice as it happened.
May 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical-novel
While this book (written by a local author) was hailed as a "masterpiece of historical fiction" to me it was more of a romance novel set in an historical period played against a key historical figure. Nonetheless, it was quite readable, and compelling in a soap-opera kind of way. The characters and their roles in life were interesting. The historical setting revealing. There just was not much history in this "historical fiction".
Jul 30, 2011 rated it liked it
I liked the premise of the story and enjoyed learning about an important historical figure and period from a very different perspective than anything I'd read in the past. The portrayal of Anna was wonderful- a three-dimentional character whose spirit and backbone really inspired my sympathy. However, I found the portayal of Ottilie unconvincing. Her character didn't seem fully fleshed out and she seemed more like a cariacature of a person than an actual person.
Mar 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2014
My first bad book of 2014. I take solace in the fact that I did not choose to read this book. It was the Feb selection for my book club. I would have stopped reading if it was just something I picked up. It was just too much...The wife the long suffering victim, the naive mistress, and of course the domineering Douglass. And honestly, I could have lived without having ever read a Fredrick Douglass sex scene. "ick"
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Jewell Parker Rhodes has always loved reading and writing stories. Born and raised in Manchester, a largely African-American neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh, she was a voracious reader as a child. She began college as a dance major, but when she discovered there were novels by African Americans, for African Americans, she knew she wanted to be an author. She wrote six novels for adult ...more