Women’s Suffrage Books to Read for the Centennial and Election Resources for 2020

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Me at a march August 26th, 2019 to kick off the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.

On August 18th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified by Tennessee, the last state that was needed to take the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” across the finish line. On August 26th, 1920, it became the law of the land: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Summer 2020 was meant to be full of celebrations, lectures, and marches, many of which have moved online because of the pandemic (see Digital Resources), but I have been really grateful that the House Museum Book Club that I am part of has kept going over Zoom. This year’s theme was women’s suffrage and many of the books have been great. I have also been checking out books from my local library. Here are my favorites, in case you also want to brush up on your suffrage history.

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Image from National Parks Service. Silent Sentinels picketing outside the White House to pressure Woodrow Wilson to act on suffrage.

  • Why They Marched: The Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Susan Ware. I particularly appreciate how this book includes women of color, working-class women, and Anti-Suffs in the history of women’s suffrage. Often, the history of racism and classism in the suffrage movement is skimmed over and Ware does a wonderful job of acknowledging that history and also illustrating how black and working-class women were important to the movement.
  • The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss cinematically tells the story of the fight to get the 19th Amendment ratified in Tennessee, including how the last vote was tipped by a letter to a young state senator from his mother. This story also gets into great detail about the tensions between the two arms of the suffrage movement led by Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt.
  • The Women’s Suffrage Movement (Penguin Classics) includes primary documents from the movement from Seneca Falls forward. Reading history books is a great way to learn about the details and nuances of suffrage history, but reading texts written by the key figures in that history can help build a better depth of understanding and context.
  • Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fight for the Right to Vote by Tina Cassidy is a fabulous biography of Alice Paul and her prolonged conflict with President Woodrow Wilson. Paul was such a firecracker and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how she got her start with the British suffragettes as well as her “militant” fight for suffrage in the U.S. She was a tiny, athletic Quaker and a fascinating character.
  • Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote by Dean Robbins takes that history of Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson and breaks it down for younger readers. It is a cute picture book version of the history for any young readers you have learning with you.
  • Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall is a graphic novel that provides a complicated overview of women’s history globally and includes a section on the suffrage movement that does a great job of dealing with the issues around race in that history.

There is so much good content out there on women’s suffrage; this is just a few highlights. If Why They Marched gets you interested in Ida B. Wells, you could do a whole deep dive on her. There is a ton of great history online about suffrage in different regions, because the struggle for the vote looked very different in the west than it did in the south. Spend some time reading and you’ll always find that there is even more to learn.

Digital Resources

If you are looking for more information, activities, or events around the Women’s Suffrage Centennial, I think your first stop should be checking with your local history center or League of Women Voters, if you have them. I think these resources are also wonderful:

Vote This Year.

“To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.”  —Carrie Chapman Catt

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Source: Suffrage Over Silence

These celebrations are not happening in a vacuum, however; 2020 is an election year and one in which the president is already trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results for no truth-based reason. Do your feminist foremothers and Civil Rights heroes (<3 John Lewis) proud and make sure you and those in your circle are registered to vote and vote. Do not procrastinate, either. Vote early if you can. If you are voting by mail, give your sweet ballot plenty of time to get to the election board. Do your research on local elections. Be smart. Be educated. Be a participant.

There are plenty of resources that can help you figure out what you need to do this election. Vote.org and Suffrage Over Silence include information on getting registered to vote and receiving a ballot in each state. Ballotpedia is a wonderful tool for learning about what is on your ballot, with information from both sides of the debate on the ballot issues. This can be really helpful, because sometimes the language on those ballot issues is confusing and makes it hard to parse what you’re actually voting for or against.

You can call your senator and ask them to support the HEROES Act, which, in addition to continuing economic support in response to COVID-19, includes “$3.6 billion in election funding to expand vote by mail and safe in-person voting locations and $25 billion in funding for the United States Postal Service to help protect this election.” While you’re on the line, you could also discuss restoring the Voting Rights Act. The House passed a bill meant to do that in December and recently moved to have it renamed after the late, great Rep. John R. Lewis, but the bill has been held hostage by the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell (who is up for reelection this year, btw). If we cannot all vote and do so safely, we do not have the democracy that we so cherish. If voter turnout scares you, then maybe elected office is not for you.

If you are interested in the ongoing fight against voter suppression, I cannot recommend enough the book One Person, No Vote by Dr. Carol Anderson. It should make you so mad, but it is an incredibly detailed and clear picture of how voter suppression is still happening.

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