This August, the United States is celebrating 100 years since the ratification of the 19th amendment–which instituted women’s suffrage but didn’t make voting a perfect thing for all. We know, as readers and students of American history, that voting rights are a constant struggle–for a lot of reasons. That doesn’t mean that the 19th Amendment isn’t still something important to celebrate–but it’s important that we look beyond the most well-known white suffragettes and the most famous moments to enrich our own learning.
Luckily, the book Why They Marched by Susan Ware is an excellent foray into the brightest stars and the unknown heroines of the suffrage movement, from its early years at Seneca Falls to the final days of the ratification process. Told in 19 vignettes focusing on one particular suffragist and their story, this book is an excellent addition to any bookshelf, but especially the bookshelf of strong women who want to learn more about our foremothers.
As someone who has read pretty extensively about the usual suffrage suspects–Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, etc–this was a great book to learn more about the movement and the women involved who weren’t front page news but still made major waves.
I live in D.C., and every day that I leave my house I walk by the Mary Church Terrell House, which is set for a major renovation project, but she is someone who I had never heard of before. She was a Civil Rights leader and suffragette and yes, she gets her own chapter in this book! I also learned more about suffragettes like Sojourner Truth, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Stone Blackwell, Maud Wood Park, and more.
There’s stories of cartoonists, horse-back riding women sharing the message, elaborate plans for plays and displays, women facing jail time for their demonstrations, the story of a husband of a suffragette, and more. This is such a unique collection that offers something for everyone–whether you’re looking for a new moment in history to explore or to find a new heroine to savor.
Another fascinating aspect of the book was the way Ware used items (photographs, buttons, etc) to anchor each chapter. As a lover of art as well as literature, it was so cool to see the art of the movement, memorabilia related to the fight for the vote, et cetera.
Whether you want to read it a chapter at a time or devour the whole book in one sitting, this book is an excellent addition to any history shelf and especially in conversation with the 100th anniversary of the ratification this August!