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Women's Rights Activist, Ernestine Rose - an Editorial Review of "The Queen of the Platform"

Book Blurb:

"Susan Higginbotham has a gift for telling the tales of strong women who stepped out from the shadows into which society's strictures would have cast them in order to make their indelible marks on history. . . . Weaving together sumptuous prose and groundbreaking research, Higginbotham delivers a read that is both empowering and important."

—Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of Finding Margaret Fuller

From the award-winning author of The Stolen Crown and Hanging Mary comes a novel based on the life of the indomitable Ernestine Rose, whose fearless advocacy helped bring about the rights women enjoy today.

Question everything, Ernestine vows while growing up in a Poland ravaged by the Napoleonic wars. Accept nothing blindly.

Rejecting her rabbi father’s religion and an arranged marriage, Ernestine strikes out on her own, arriving in New York in 1836. Distressed by the injustices around her, she takes to the public speaking platform, pressing for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights alongside activists like Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But at a time when women are expected to confine themselves to the parlor and the hearth—and when an atheist is best advised to say nothing at all—is Ernestine’s adopted country ready to hear her?

Following Ernestine through triumph and heartbreak and across two continents, The Queen of the Platform brings out of history’s shadows a heroine who braved public scorn to fight for the values she held dear.

Author Bio:

Susan Higginbotham's meticulously researched historical fiction brought to life by her heartfelt writing delights readers. Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Maryland with her family.

Editorial Review:

"The Queen of the Platform" written by Susan Higginbotham is a captivating book that explores the life and activism of Ernestine Rose, a women's rights advocate. The book unveils the fascinating story of Rose, a strong and independent woman, during a time when women's rights were a fierce battle.


The novel begins with an elderly Ernestine Rose reflecting on her life, facing the challenges of aging and illness. Although she now lives in relative tranquility, Rose vividly recalls the tumultuous periods and her struggles for women's rights: „ But in my decline I need some occupation, so I have decided to write my story. I will probably burn it, as it really is no one’s business but my own, but whatever the irksome state of my body, my mind is still sharp and clear (if prone to the occasional slip), so I may as well exert it. It will allow me the opportunity for reflection, which is generally agreed to be a good thing, and perhaps I will recall some things that have blurred over time. ”


The story begins in the town of Piotrków Trybunalski in Poland, under the rule of the Russian tsar, where Rose experienced a childhood marked by challenges and questions about the role of women in society. Throughout the book, Rose's advocacy for women's rights becomes evident and influences every aspect of her life. The passages about her struggle for women's rights are filled with passion and determination. Memorably, the author underscores the importance of words and language in the women's rights movement, evident in the semantic choices of the characters.


Susan Higginbotham skillfully blends historical elements and real characters into a fictional story, bringing to life the social and cultural context of the time. The detailed description of places and atmosphere creates a vivid picture of the world in which Ernestine Rose lived.


Throughout the book, Rose evolves as a character, and readers witness her transformation from a curious young woman to a confident and determined woman set on changing the world around her. While her family wishes to see her married, she seeks freedom and refuses to succumb to societal pressures. The attempt to escape potential suitors leads to the decision to move alone to Berlin, marking a significant moment of independence in her life.


An interesting element is the introduction of the protagonist's passion for creating scented papers, inspired by memories of her mother. This activity becomes a way for her to preserve her identity and create something of her own in the new world she has ventured into.

 „Something tugged at my memory. My mother had burned a little strip of perfumed paper from time to time that filled the room with a delicious vanilla scent. It had been of her own making, created from a recipe that had been passed down for generations. But had she passed it on to my generation? I pulled her receipt book out of my trunk and lovingly thumbed through it. Finally, I found what I wanted. It was a little vague—rather inconsiderate of my ancestors, and Mama as well—and most irritatingly of all did not inform me what type of paper would smolder gradually instead of bursting into flames. I would have to experiment. But I certainly had time to spare. [...] One attempt involved so much smoke that I am amazed the neighbors did not complain, and another came very near to catching my little apartment on fire. But I persevered, and after a couple of weeks was rewarded with a lovely smell wafting through the room as my paper, folded in the style of an accordion, gently burned to bits.”

The unique aspect of the book lies in the protagonist's evolution within the context of the political and social events of that time. It highlights struggles for political reforms and discussions about women's rights, providing readers with a perspective on the changes and challenges of that period. Susan Higginbotham constructs an authentic portrait of the era, emphasizing the difficulties and challenges women faced in their attempt to reclaim their rights. The main character's development over the years and the evolution of the women's rights movement are presented with sensitivity and depth.


Throughout the book, the author subtly integrates other social themes of the time, such as the abolition of slavery and social reforms. This aspect adds an additional layer of complexity and offers a broad perspective on societal issues of that period.


The novel captures the intensity of Rose's emotions and dilemmas in the face of significant events of the time, such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and heated debates within the women's rights movement. The complex perspectives of the characters, such as the tense relationships with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, add depth and realism to the story. Meanwhile, the daily life of the couple Rose and William is marked by pleasant moments, such as the friendly competition to read the first New York Herald on Sunday mornings and William's discovery of a women's rights convention at Seneca Falls. This discovery solidified their shared concerns and commitment to change in a society with prejudices and limitations.


A recurring theme in the book is Rose's active involvement in the women's rights movement, including the significant moment when she proposes changing the organization's name from Equal Rights Association to Woman Suffrage Association. This period of history is portrayed with attention to detail, offering readers an authentic perspective on the struggles and social changes: „Wherever men are—whether in the workshop, in the store, in the laboratory, or in the legislative halls—I want to see women. Wherever man is, there she is needed; wherever man has work to do—work for the benefit of humanity—there should men and women unite and cooperate together. It is not well for man to be alone or work alone, but he cannot work for woman as well as woman can work for herself.” I took a final breath, to make sure what I said next was perfectly audible. “I move that the name of this society be changed from the Equal Rights Association to the Woman Suffrage Association.”


The book concludes with an emotional reflection on the life of the protagonist, Ernestine L. Rose. The action takes place in the year 1892, over two decades since her stay in Bath, as Ernestine prepares to depart for Brighton. The narrative takes on a reflective tone as Ernestine shares the events that unfolded after her return to America in 1873, only to come back to England due to health issues. The passage explores her enduring love for her deceased husband, William, the challenges she faced after his death, and the gradual shrinking of her family. Despite losses and difficulties, Ernestine remains resolute and steadfast in her convictions. The narrative beautifully captures her unwavering spirit and leaves the reader with a profound sense of the impact she had on the women's rights movement and the world around her:„Papa and Mama and Sophie. Marcus and Amalia. Our darling Joseph. My friends, my colleagues on the platform. William, always William. Pulling out a chair for me at Robert Owen’s meeting. Applauding after I gave my first speech in halting English. Kissing me on the steamer after our marvelous day at Greenwich. It is true, as I told Anna, I can do nothing now. But I did what I could, and no matter what is spoken over my grave when I am brought there to lie with dear William, I am certain it will include this: that I have lived.”


In the end, "The Queen of the Platform" proves to be a fascinating story, bringing to the forefront a forgotten heroine of the women's rights movement and providing a profound perspective on the social struggles of the 19th century. Susan Higginbotham skillfully captures the life and significant legacy of Ernestine L. Rose. This work adeptly explores themes such as women's emancipation, discrimination, and the fight for gender equality in a tumultuous historical period. It is a captivating read that unveils the complexity of Susan B. Anthony's personality and her impact on the women's rights movement.


In conclusion, "The Queen of the Platform" offers a captivating journey into the history of the women's rights movement in the 19th century. Susan Higginbotham seamlessly blends fiction with historical facts, providing readers with a profound perspective on the courage and determination of women to fight for change in a resistant society. The book seems to offer a captivating and complex story, blending personal aspects of the protagonist with significant historical events. It is an interesting mix of exploring relationships, identity search, and adaptation to social changes.



“The Queen of the Platform” by Susan Higginbotham receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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