Reviews for A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time

"An extraordinarily ordinary woman and the causes she fought for


"Books by Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stephenson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates are important in making linkages from past to present. So too, are titles that look back to the 1800s to help us understand how we got here — how much has changed, and how little.

Julia Wilbur is not a well-known abolitionist. That lack of familiarity is one thing that makes Paula Tarnapol Whitacre’s A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time so interesting. Wilbur was one of many volunteer advocates who dedicated much of her life to a cause in ways that unsung volunteers do today...

Readers who will appreciate this book include those interested in the Civil War, abolitionism, and early feminism. Residents of both Rochester, New York, and the DC area will appreciate the detailed descriptions and historical photographs of their communities. Finally, we can all be inspired by the significant contributions made by a woman who was brave, relentless, and — comfortingly — ordinary."

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Robin Tolbert, Washington Independent Review of Books


"In the midst of the traditional military studies about bayonets and bugles, it can be easy to forget the thousands stories of those behind the lines. A new book about a relief worker in Alexandria, Virginia seeks to re-focus the lens, and remind us of the legions of people who mobilized to help however they could....

Paula Whitacre has created a great book that deserves to be read by anyone seeking to get an understanding of the experiences of civilian relief agents.  As an addendum, an important part of the research of the book was a team of historians scanning and transcribing Wilbur’s diaries.?

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Ryan Quint, Emerging Civil War


“A historical account that could fit in the political dialogue today, Paula Whitacre tells the story of abolitionist and suffragist Julia Wilbur, who in 1862 left her family home in Rochester, New York, and traveled to Alexandria, where she looked into the face of misogyny and racism to fight for escaped slaves and help Union soldiers. Whitacre weaves Wilbur’s tale through diaries and other primary historical sources."

Lynn Norusis, Northern Virginia magazine

Whitacre shines a light on a remarkable character, abolitionist Julia Wilbur, who, much like her fictional counterparts on “Mercy Street,” heroically confronted misogyny, racism and fear in an effort to aid enslaved African Americans make the transition to freedom. This important and timely story is empathetically brought to life by the author. I urge everyone to pick up a copy and delve deeper into a chapter of Civil War history that has been overlooked for far too long.”

Lisa Wolfinger, Co-creator and Executive Producer, Mercy Street


“From heated abolitionists’ debates in Rochester, NY, to the postwar detritus in Alexandria, Virginia, Julia Wilber was a principal actor in the Civil War and Reconstruction era.  Like many women reformers of that period, her story remained untold. In Paula Whitacre’s talented hands, Wilbur’s life bursts from the page. She appears as an adoring aunt, an ardent activist, Harriet Jacobs' ally, a committed teacher, and, most of all, an eyewitness to the ending of slavery and the beginning of freedom.”

Jim Downs, Author, Sick from Freedom


“By illuminating Julia Wilbur’s struggles to end slavery, join the emancipated in the fight against bigotry, and live a life of purpose within constraints place on women, Paula Whitacre offers a rich biography, but also important, beautifully written history.”

Chandra Manning, Author, Troubled Refuge


“Whitacre’s biography captures the extraordinary life and times of this seemingly ordinary American woman. Julia Wilbur resisted nineteenth-century expectations that women be dependent daughters, wives, and mothers, instead throwing herself into the battle over slavery, emancipation, and the reconstruction of the nation.”

Carol Faulkner, Author, Lucretia Mott’s Heresy


“Whitacre focuses on Alexandria, and the work of Julia Wilbur and Harriet Jacobs, examining the gender politics at play when white and black women entered the war effort. In addition, Whitacre’s scholarship expands our knowledge of the African American experience before, during, and after the Civil War. A fascinating look at Wilbur and Civil War Alexandria, Virginia.”

Audrey Davis, Director, Alexandria Black History Museum


“Whitacre has created a compelling portrait of a nineteenth-century abolitionist working on the front line of change. Julia Wilbur joins the ranks of tough-minded women who stood firm at the point where idealism meets reality.

Pamela Toler, Author, Heroines of Mercy Street


“Activist and teacher Julia Wilbur captured nineteenth-century battles for racial and gender justice in her extensive diaries. In resurrecting Wilbur’s life, Whitacre vividly conveys the struggles, both mundane and momentous, that reshaped families and nations in the Civil War era.”

Nancy Hewitt, Author, Radical Friends: The Activist Worlds of Amy Kirby Post, 1802-1889