This year marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment, which opened up the right to vote to women throughout the country. Women spent many years working for suffrage, enduring the taunts and occasional threats from those who did not believe they should step foot in the voting booth. As we celebrate this anniversary, here are a few books that explore the people who made universal suffrage possible and the challenges they faced in bringing the vote to all people.
British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is an important figure in the suffrage movement whose work inspired many American suffragettes, including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. During her lifetime, Pankhurst founded several groups that worked towards equality for women. She also suggested the use of militant tactics by the suffragettes: “Be militant in your own way! Those of you who can break windows, break them. Those of you who can still further attack the secret idol of property … do so. And my last word is to the Government: I incite this meeting to rebellion. Take me if you dare!” Originally published in 1914, Pankhurst’s autobiography “Suffragette: My Own Story” provides a glimpse into her perspective on those turbulent times and why she encouraged more violent methods of protest.
Readers who want an all-encompassing exploration of the women’s suffrage movement should check out the recent release, “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote.” Author Ellen Carol Dubois’ background as a professor of history and gender studies is evident in her writing, which follows the decades of work to obtain the vote, beginning in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention. Dubois introduces the various women from different backgrounds who engaged in the fight, and explores the different tactics they took including peaceful protests and hunger strikes. Dubois’ book also examines how race affected the fight for equal rights, and how women including Ida B. Wells-Barnett worked to gain more equality for women of color who were held back by both their sex and their race.
Readers who want to learn more about the complex issue of race in relation to the suffrage movement might check out “Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era” by Laura E. Free. With the passing of the 15th Amendment, gender became the defining factor in who could vote. This caused conflict between suffragists including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and abolitionists including Frederick Douglass, who had once worked side by side, but now found themselves on opposite sides of the voting issue.
President Woodrow Wilson held office at the time that women gained the right to vote and was reluctantly pulled into the suffrage movement. “Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fight for the Right to Vote” by Tina Cassidy looks into the work of Alice Paul, a New Jersey-born woman who played an active role in pushing Wilson to redirect his party to help get women the vote. Paul, inspired by the demonstrations of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christobal, went to jail in England multiple times for her actions. Paul was a polarizing figure, which often led to conflicts with other leading suffragists of her day, most notably Carrie Chapman Catt who did not approve of Paul’s tactics.
June 14, 1916 was the opening day of the Democratic National Convention held in Saint Louis, Missouri. Droves of women came to stand in silent protest of the fact that they could not vote. Local author Margot Ford McMillen explores this important event in “The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History.” The book illustrates the history of women’s suffrage in Missouri, including the case of Virginia Louisa Minor, a suffragist and the first president of the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri, who unsuccessfully attempted to show that the 14th Amendment allowed women the right to vote. McMillen’s book explores how Missouri women worked through grassroots movements and connected with suffragists from around the country to fight for the right to vote.
Nineteenth Century feminist Lucy Stone stated: “I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power.” After a hundred years with access to the vote, it is certainly worth reflecting on how women’s voting since the passage of the 19th Amendment has shaped this country. In “A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage” authors Christina Wolbrecht and J. Kevin Corder compare long-held assumptions about women in the voting booth with the reality of how they actually voted and the historic forces that shaped their votes.