Passed by Congress June 4th, 1919, and ratified 100 years ago today on August 18th, 1920, the 19th amendment to the Constitution granted American women the right to vote. Let’s celebrate with five books that tell the story of those who birthed a revolution, fought to win this right, and ultimately, changed the world.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement by Sally Roesch Wagner
Comprised of historical texts spanning two centuries, The Women’s Suffrage Movement is a comprehensive and singular volume that covers the major issues and figures involved in the movement, with a distinctive focus on diversity, incorporating race, class, and gender, and illuminating minority voices. In an effort to spotlight the many influential voices that were excluded from the movement, the writings of well-known suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are featured alongside accounts of Native American women who inspired suffragists like Matilda Joslyn Gage to join the movement, as well as African American suffragists such as Sarah Mapps Douglas and Harriet Purvis, who were often left out of the conversation because of their race. The editor and introducer, Sally Roesch Wagner, is a pre-eminent scholar of the diverse backbone of the women’s suffrage movement, the founding director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, and serves on the New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission.
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Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Susan Ware
For far too long, the history of how American women won the right to vote has been told as the tale of a few iconic leaders, all white and native-born. But Susan Ware uncovered a much broader and more diverse story waiting to be told. Why They Marched is a tribute to the many women who worked tirelessly in communities across the nation, out of the spotlight, protesting, petitioning, and insisting on their right to full citizenship.
Ware tells her story through the lives of nineteen activists, most of whom have long been overlooked. We meet Mary Church Terrell, a multilingual African American woman; Rose Schneiderman, a labor activist building coalitions on New York’s Lower East Side; Claiborne Catlin, who toured the Massachusetts countryside on horseback to drum up support for the cause; Mary Johnston, an aristocratic novelist bucking the Southern ruling elite; Emmeline B. Wells, a Mormon woman in a polygamous marriage determined to make her voice heard; and others who helped harness a groundswell of popular support. We also see the many places where the suffrage movement unfolded—in church parlors, meeting rooms, and the halls of Congress, but also on college campuses and even at the top of Mount Rainier. Few corners of the United States were untouched by suffrage activism.
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Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait by Tina Cassidy
Woodrow Wilson lands in Washington, DC, in March of 1913, a day before he is set to take the presidential oath of office. He is surprised by the modest turnout. The crowds and reporters are blocks away from Union Station, watching a parade of eight thousand suffragists on Pennsylvania Avenue in a first-of-its-kind protest organized by a twenty-five-year-old activist named Alice Paul. The next day, The New York Times calls the procession “one of the most impressively beautiful spectacles ever staged in this country.”
Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? weaves together two storylines: the trajectories of Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson, two apparent opposites. Paul’s procession of suffragists resulted in her being granted a face-to-face meeting with President Wilson, one that would lead to many meetings and much discussion, but little progress for women. With no equality in sight and patience wearing thin, Paul organized the first group to ever picket in front of the White House lawn–night and day, through sweltering summer mornings and frigid fall nights.
From solitary confinement, hunger strikes, and the psychiatric ward to ever more determined activism, Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? reveals the courageous, near-death journey it took, spearheaded in no small part by Alice Paul’s leadership, to grant women the right to vote in America.
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister
Long before Pantsuit Nation, before the Women’s March, and before the #MeToo movement, women’s anger was not only politically catalytic—but politically problematic. The story of female fury and its cultural significance demonstrates its crucial role in women’s slow rise to political power in America, as well as the ways that anger is received when it comes from women as opposed to when it comes from men.
In Good and Mad, Traister tracks the history of female anger as political fuel—from suffragettes marching on the White House to office workers vacating their buildings after Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Traister explores women’s anger at both men and other women; anger between ideological allies and foes; the varied ways anger is received based on who’s expressing it; and the way women’s collective fury has become transformative political fuel. She deconstructs society’s (and the media’s) condemnation of female emotion (especially rage) and the impact of their resulting repercussions.
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In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo
Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history. Best-selling author Karen Karbo spotlights the spirited rule breakers who charted their way with little regard for expectations: Amelia Earhart, Helen Gurley Brown, Edie Sedgwick, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, and Shonda Rhimes, among others. Their lives—imperfect, elegant, messy, glorious—provide inspiration and instruction for the new age of feminism we have entered. Karbo distills these lessons with wit and humor, examining the universal themes that connect us to each of these mesmerizing personalities today: success and style, love and authenticity, daring and courage. Being “difficult,” Karbo reveals, might not make life easier. But it can make it more fulfilling—whatever that means for you.
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