Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Susan's Book Review: With Courage and Cloth by Ann Bausum

Several years ago I saw a great movie called Iron Jawed Angels that opened my eyes to the women’s suffrage movement. Prior to that, I knew some of the important names like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but I didn’t realize that women who began the fight didn’t live to see it won. Other women, namely Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, took up the cause and were ultimately victorious. The battle for women’s right to vote lasted 72 years (from 1848-1920), but the book focuses on the final years, from 1913-1920.


There were two camps focused on gaining women the right to vote and they had different methods. One was the National Woman’s Party (headed by Paul) and the other was the National American Woman Suffrage Association (headed by Catt). Paul’s tactics were more in-your-face and mostly involved picketing in front of the White House. It kept suffrage in the papers and on people’s minds. The title of the book refers to the banners the picketers held as they peacefully protested. They were tolerated at first (President Wilson ordered the White House staff to offer them coffee), but after World War I began, tensions were high and many felt the women were out of line. Eventually people started to heckle the picketers, and police would not protect the women from the mobs that formed, but rather arrest them on phony charges. More than 200 women were arrested and about 100 served time in jail. Some famously went on hunger strikes, only to be force fed by prison staff, and it became a public relations mess for President Wilson.


Catt’s NAWSA took a different approach. They felt Paul and the NWP were accomplishing nothing by offending politicians they needed to support the suffrage amendment. They divided their time working for the war effort and fighting for the amendment by keeping on the good side of President Wilson. Although the two groups didn’t work together, they did end up complementing each other. One was seen as militant and the other as amiable, and I think both were needed.


Adding a constitutional amendment is no easy task. They had to convince the House and the Senate at the federal level, then they had to get 36 state governments (3/4 of the union) to ratify it to become law. Many states were ahead of the game (mostly in the west) and had already granted women the right to vote, but others (mostly in the south) were anti-suffrage and fought against it. By the election in 1920, women had full suffrage rights, but it would take over 36 years for as many women to vote as men.


I think this book is lovely and shines a spotlight on deserving women that history has somewhat ignored. It has numerous pictures of key players and events, interesting quotes, and it’s printed in the colors of the suffrage movement: purple, gold and white. Not many books make me wish I had a report due, but this one does!


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