AMERICAN WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE

Amid the flood of books marking the centennial of women’s suffrage, this anthology stands out for its scope and authority. In a season sure to bring paeans to movement foremothers, Ware deromanticizes their fight by gathering 90 pro-, anti-, or proto-suffrage documents—articles, speeches, pamphlets, and other nonfiction along with a few poems and humorous sketches and a play by Charlotte Perkins Gilman—all written or delivered between 1776 and the months after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many entries reveal tactical or ideological conflicts among leaders like Susan B.
Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Lucy Stone, none more fateful than whether to try to enfranchise women state by state or push for the federal law that became the 19th Amendment. Other pieces give voice to the rank and file, to men, and to American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and Chinese immigrants.
With endearing good cheer, the Massachusetts suffragist Florence Luscomb describes traveling around her state by trolley, toting a 6-foot banner inscribed “Votes for Women,” only to arrive in a country town and end up “talking to the air, three assorted dogs, six kids, and the two loafers in front of the grocery store just over the way.” The most startling item comes from the Mississippi suffragist Belle Kearney, who—with no apparent shame—urged Southerners to support women’s suffrage because it would ensure “immediate and durable white supremacy,” given that educated white female voters would outnumber “all the illiterate voters, white and black, native and foreign—combined.” Some entries have more historical than literary or human interest, but this is essential for libraries and a go-to book for anyone seriously interested in women’s suffrage in America.