Today, we would like to use our series to promote the poetry of Sandra Whitnell, whose sonnet, ‘The Ascent’, poetically engages with a prominent figure in African-American history, Frederick Douglass, and his encounter with British suffragettes in Edinburgh.

We bring our cause into the open air

And climb as one – together we are strong.

Frederick Douglass, c. 1879, by Georges Kendall Warren (source: Wikipedia Commons)

‘The Ascent’ by Sandra Whitnell

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) from Maryland escaped from slavery in 1838. He went on to become a famous politician, campaigning for the abolition of slavery. In 1846 he visited Scotland and gave inspirational lectures about emancipation. In Edinburgh he and prominent suffragettes climbed Arthur’s seat and covered the summit in graffiti.

One small step on this uncharted ground,

To scale the heights of craggy Arthurs seat.

Arm in arm in purpose we are bound.

Our goal is clear; we will not brook defeat.


The path is steep and rocky: do we care?

Sisters and slaves are used to suffer long.

We bring our cause into the open air

And climb as one – together we are strong.


Our destiny lies beyond the threatening cloud,

We will ascend, however hard the way.

And at the peak proclaim the truth out loud

Sisters and slaves must be freed today!


For soon the dormant hill will burn again –

Then will the heat of justice fall like rain.



Sandra Whitnell lives in beautiful Peebles with her husband, having moved from North Yorkshire a few years ago. She writes plays, poems and short stories based on archive newspapers, poorhouse records, and voices other original sources. Sandra learned about Frederick Douglass and the suffragettes at a talk by a feminist local history group called DRB based in Edinburgh. By coincidence, she was researching the lives of Victorian women in the 1840s and trying to find out about an escaped slave in local census records.



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