How perfect that today, when yet another famous women, this time Oprah Winfrey, is being mooted as a presidential possibility, today I am reviewing a book about the birth of suffrage for American women.
Back in the Gilded Age and the Edwardian Era, women became aware of a failing on the part of most democracies: They denied woman the right to vote. The Votes for Women movements that sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic had two sorts of champions: Ordinary Women and the Grande Dames of Society. In the United States, the suffragist movement, achieved instant press coverage thanks to women with married or maiden names like Vanderbilt, Harriman and Whitney. The press was well used to covering their storied parties and balls, but this was something new. The women had found a purpose in life that wasn’t about conspicuous consumption.
When women get bored, watch out! Things change.
This is also the era in which society women founded New York’s first “gentleman’s club” exclusively for women–the fabled Colony Club. It is also when society women like President Theodore Roosevelt’s serious-minded niece, Eleanor, (soon to become Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt) founded and populated the Junior League. Denied careers, often forced to make a career out of an arrange marriage, these women knew how to work a room, organize a committee, influence and flatter men and make change happen–whether it was slum clearance, immigrant assimilation, public health, the formation of public libraries or any number of other causes these ladies were the backbone of such campaigns. Suffrage was their shining moment.
Not that things went smoothly or that the women all got along! Nope. Just like your average PTA or college sorority, there were factions, fissures and almost fist-fights along the way. But the women got it done. Period.
Joanna Neuman’s well-researched, brilliantly told tale of the true story of women’s suffrage coming to America is a great, short read at only 160 pages of actual text. You will come away seeing the legacy of Founding Mother Abigail Adams’ spirit continuing to imbue American women with a sense of what is right and of how to achieve it. You will come away thinking differently of the supposedly vapid-party-hearty types with big money, too.