We are less than two months away from the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States.* I’ve been doing a lot of reading about suffrage history this year. So far, I have most enjoyed Why They Marched and The Woman’s Hour. This week, I picked up A Century of Votes for Women, which is a history of elections since the passage of the 19th Amendment.
A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections since Suffrage is the kind of book I imagine would be invaluable if I were working on a research project about women as voters, but as a casual read it was not an especially compelling or fun read.
The book breaks down the last century into a handful of distinct time periods: 1920-1936, the 1940s and 50s, 1964-1976, the 1980s and 90s, and the twenty-first century. In each chapter, the authors present an overview of the major, national political trends and shifts during the time period, then break down the data on voter turnout based on factors in women’s lives such as gender norms, family, economics, and education. Each chapter ends with a section that reinforces that women are not a voting bloc and explains how women’s voting choices were influenced by race, age, education, marriage, family, work, and the politics of place. This layout makes navigating each chapter easy. It also clearly marks this book as an academic text. It is short on narrative, heavy on data.
I found the most interesting part of each chapter to be the sections that examined political trends and the changes in the lives of women during the designated time period. I found that I got the most out of them. For the other sections, the authors are basically tracking the gradual shift from voter turnout for women slightly trailing men to women turning out more than men (the Gender Gap) and the gradual shift of women voters from largely supporting the Republican party to mostly voting for Democrats. If that is a story that fascinates you, this book is for you. Otherwise, you might read the intro and conclusion and skim the rest. It is a valuable book for all the information it compiles, it is just not a great read.
*I think it’s important to acknowledge that the history of the suffrage movement in the U.S. includes an unfortunate streak of racism, as suffragists from the south were openly racist and many suffragists from the north felt they had to make concessions in order to get the vote. Although the 19th Amendment technically enfranchised all women, in practice women of color were still kept from voting until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And voter suppression is still alive and well today. The fight did not end in 1920—not by a long shot.