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The Woman’s Hour

The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss
Hardcover
Mar 06, 2018 | 416 Pages
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Praise

“At the heart of democracy lies the ballot box, and Elaine Weiss’s unforgettable book tells the story of the female leaders who—in the face of towering economic, racial, and political opposition—fought for and won American women’s right to vote. Unfolding over six weeks in the summer of 1920, The Woman’s Hour is both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for everyone, young and old, male and female, in these perilous times. So much could have gone wrong, but these American women would not take no for an answer: their triumph is our legacy to guard and emulate.”—Hillary Rodham Clinton

“Stirring, definitive, and engrossing….Weiss brings a lucid, lively, journalistic tone to the story…The Woman’s Hour is compulsory reading.”—NPR.org

“Weiss is a clear and genial guide with an ear for telling language … She also shows a superb sense of detail, and it’s the deliciousness of her details that suggests certain individuals warrant entire novels of their own… Weiss’s thoroughness is one of the book’s great strengths. So vividly had she depicted events that by the climactic vote (spoiler alert: The amendment was ratified!), I got goose bumps.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

“With a skill reminiscent of Robert Caro, [Weiss] turns the potentially dry stuff of legislative give-and-take into a drama of courage and cowardice.”The Wall Street Journal

“A genteel but bare-knuckled political thriller…the account reads like a reality show, impossible to predict…Weiss’ narrative is energetic and buoyant even at the most critical moments.”Ms. Magazine

“A nonfiction political thriller…Weiss zeroes in on the final campaign of the suffrage movement.”—Bustle.com
 
“Riveting… Weiss provides a multidimensional account of the political crusade… The result is a vivid work of American history.” The National Book Review

“Anyone interested in the history of our country’s ongoing fight to put its founding values into practice—as well as those seeking the roots of current political fault lines—would be well-served by picking up Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour. By focusing in on the final battle in the war to win women the right to vote, told from the point of view of its foot soldiers, Weiss humanizes both the women working in favor of the amendment and those working against it, exposing all their convictions, tactics, and flaws. She never shies away from the complicating issue of race; the frequent conflict and occasional sabotage that occurred between women’s suffrage activists and the leaders of the nascent civil rights movement make for some of the most fascinating material in the book.”—Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures
 

“Even the most informed feminists will learn a thing or two.”HelloGiggles
 
“[A] lively history.”Newsday
 
“This timely exploration of the history of American gender politics reverberates during the present debate over female equality in all aspects of life and reminds us of how long and complex that struggle has been.”Knoxville News Sentinel
 
“An intriguing, timely read. Ripe for book club discussion.”South Coast Today
 
“[An] important tale…Weiss’ reportage…enables her to add splashes of color [and] wonderful dimension.”USA Today
 
“A page-turner…the story here is told in all its ugliness.”New York Journal of Books
 
“This well-researched and well-documented history reveals how prosuffragists sometimes compromised racial equality to win white women’s enfranchisement, and that, although the 19th Amendment was ratified, there exists to this day an ongoing battle to effect universal, unrestricted suffrage.”—Library Journal

“Weiss does a wonderful job of laying out the background of the American women’s suffrage movement….A lively slice of history filled with political drama, Weiss’s book captures a watershed moment for American women.”—Book Page

“Remarkably entertaining … a timely examination of a shining moment in the ongoing fight to achieve a more perfect union.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred and Boxed Review

“Imaginatively conceived and vividly written, The Woman’s Hour gives  us a stirring history of women’s long journey to suffrage and to political influence. Making bold connection with race and class,  Weiss’s splendid book is as much needed today as it was in 1940 when Eleanor Roosevelt noted that men hate women with power.  As every victory since the Civil War and Reconstruction faces the wrecker,  The Woman’s Hour is an inspiration in the continuing struggles for suffrage, and for race and gender justice, and for democracy.—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor Roosevelt


Praise for Fruits of Victory

“Weiss’s excellent work of cross-disciplinary scholarship offers readers a unique look at how WWI changed society.”
—Booklist

“Weiss effectively chronicles the birth of the WLA movement and the dedicated women behind it. Recommended for both scholarly readers and interested history buffs.”
—Library Journal

Author Q&A

The Woman’s Hour tells a dramatic story of a pivotal event in the twentieth century—one that people know happened but have little idea of how or why. What do you hope the reader will take away from your retelling the story of the suffragists and the Antis?

The woman suffrage movement really is one of the great civil rights campaigns in our nation’s history. It secured the enfranchisement of one-half of the nation’s citizens—twenty-seven million women—and yet we know very little about it. It’s rarely taught in school (and if it is mentioned, often cartoonishly over-simplified), and it’s rarely portrayed in books of popular narrative history.

I hope readers of The Woman’s Hour will begin to understand what this movement meant—its place in American history and the expansion of democracy, its role in changing attitudes towards women—and gain a deeper appreciation for the women who devoted their lives to what they called “The Cause.” Readers will get to know these women in a more intimate way: their ambitions, their fears, their courage, the personal price they often paid for their stance against the status quo. Not just the famous leaders, but the devoted foot soldiers of the movement, in the small cities and towns of Tennessee and across the country. The men—some politicians, some in other professions—who truly believed in a broader democracy, and bravely stood up for women’s equal rights. Readers will also come to know the “Antis”—the men, but especially the women—who opposed their sisters’ holding the ballot. Readers will come away with a visceral sense of what it was like to be in that final confrontation in Nashville: the heat and tension and fear; the political pressures bearing down; the enormous stakes involved. And the real uncertainty of the outcome.

Many have forgotten that it took more than seventy years for women to obtain the right to vote, and far fewer people know that it came down to the six-week battle in one state, Tennessee. In the book you show how all the core elements of American history—race, class, money, gender, states’ rights, and power itself—play their roles in the events of August 1920. Could you share some examples of this?

We think we know how women won the vote: A bunch of women met at Seneca Falls in hoop skirts and bonnets, then flash-forward to some marches and a few picturesque picket signs, and poof—men decided to give their mothers, wives, and daughters the gift of the vote. That’s not how it happened at all. It took seven decades of ceaseless, fearless agitation by three generations of women activists in more than nine-hundred local, state, and national campaigns to win the vote. These women were often ostracized by their families and churches for their suffrage stance; they were pelted with rotten eggs and pilloried in the press; they were imprisoned and force fed and beaten. In the process of challenging political norms and cultural taboos and gender stereotypes, the suffragists became adept politicians and great orators and extraordinary leaders. There are many lessons we can—and should—learn from their courage and political sagacity.

Seventy-two years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton, together with Frederick Douglass at Seneca Falls, demanded that women be allowed to vote, the final battle to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was waged in Nashville in the summer of 1920. Because this was the last stand, all the forces—supporting and opposing the federal amendment—gathered in Nashville to slug it out. And, because this last battle was fought in the South, there was tremendous opposition to the Nineteenth Amendment on racist grounds: woman suffrage would allow black women to vote (at least on paper). So all the core elements of American history—race, class, money, gender, states’ rights, and even the ghosts of the Civil War—converge and become explosive in Nashville.

How did you come to this story?

I stumbled upon the story of the Tennessee ratification vote while researching something else, deep in the Library of Congress. I was tracing how a large bequest to the suffrage cause, made by a celebrated New York woman publisher, was spent. I found that some of the money was spent in the campaign to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, and toward funding that last battle in Nashville. So I steered away from the publisher (though she does make an appearance in the book), realizing that the better story was what happened in Tennessee—those wild six weeks—and this would allow me to explore the entire suffrage movement, which, surprisingly, has not received much attention in popular historical writing.

This is not just a book about women’s history, but rather a larger look at how we have evolved as a democracy and reacted to those asking for inclusion—a reaction we see playing out again and again. Could you explain further?

At the outset of our democratic experiment, “We the People” really meant “We the White, Wealthy Men”—no one else had a voice, or had a vote. In the almost two-and-a-half centuries since, we’ve seen great pushes to expand that circle, to extend full rights to all American citizens—civil rights and voting rights—but these efforts have been met with equally strong resistance to such widening.

The vote is power, and those who already have power don’t care to share it—it’s that simple and stark. Restricting certain groups from voting is a tactic long used for political party advantage. We see it in Nashville in 1920, and it’s happening again now. It’s a constant struggle.

How did the woman suffrage movement affect later movements, such as Civil Rights, or today’s Black Lives Matter and Women’s March movements? What precedents, if any, did the suffragists set for political activism?

The campaign for woman suffrage was not only a political movement, though the goal and methods were political. It was also a long-term effort to alter societal norms and cultural customs concerning women’s roles.

The genius of the woman suffrage movement—its strategies, lobbying tactics, public education efforts, non-violent protest (demonstrations, marches, picketing, civil disobedience)—would prove to be a valuable template for later civil rights campaigns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The African-American civil rights era, gay rights campaigns, and efforts to secure women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality—all took a page from the suffragists, in both their public protests and their political maneuvers.

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