In a March 31, 1776, letter to her husband, Abigail Adams urged him and his colleagues to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. … If particular attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice of representation.”
John Adams and his male counterparts might not have forgotten, but neither did they act. The rebellion his wife predicted eventually began, but it took 144 years—until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920—for women nationwide to be granted the right to vote.
Ellen Carol Dubois celebrates the centennial in “Suffrage,” a wide-ranging examination of the struggle.
The amendment’s adoption, she writes, “ushered in a pair of fundamental changes: dramatic alterations in what it meant to be an American woman, and a grand step forward toward true democracy, the largest mass enfranchisement in national history. … Generations of suffragists persisted, and their descendants reap the benefits of their stubborn heroism.”
Dubois, a feminist and the author or editor of several works on women’s history, profiles the movement’s leaders, explores its seminal events and explains its connections to—and tensions with—the abolition, temperance and trade-union crusades.
She also details the indignities to which the suffragists were subjected as they strove for equality.
In 1872, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were accused of being “part of a free-love cabal.”
During a large march in Washington, D.C., in 1913, “Rowdies in the crowd grabbed at the women, pulled at their signs and clothes.”
And in 1917, some suffragists—outside the White House picketing the inaction of President Woodrow Wilson—were arrested and jailed in Occoquan. When they began hunger strikes, they were force-fed.
Now, they dine at the banquet of American democracy.
Timely and thorough, Dubois’ book analyzes the suffrage movement with passion and perspective, inspired by fervor for freedom.