· Hardcover: 304 pages
· Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (August 17, 2010)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0230611753
· ISBN-13: 978-0230611757
· List Price: $28.00
· (Also available in various electronic formats)
Mary Walton’s account of how the women of the United States attained the right to vote less than a century ago, and the tiny self-effacing woman who kept the issue of women’s suffrage alive before the nation’s leaders and the national press during a time when The Great War, the coming of Prohibition and the influenza epidemic garnered most of the newspaper headlines is both a labor of love and scholarly research. The passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution in 1920, known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, can be attributed largely to the efforts of Alice Paul, and not to those of either Susan B. Anthony (who had been dead for fourteen years at the time) nor the organization she founded, whose much more conservative leaders usually found themselves in opposition to Alice Paul’s radical tactics.
Peaceful civil disobedience came naturally to the diminutive Quaker, who received her training in the much more militant British women’s suffrage movement directed by Christabel Plankhurst in the years immediately following Anthony’s death in 1906. Initially a member of Anthony’s National American Women’s Suffrage Association whose strategy was to gain the vote on a state level, Alice decided that much more direct action at the federal level was needed after the horrific, largely male, crowd response to their first Washington DC march in 1913. Later causes more familiar to a modern American audience, like the civil rights and the anti-war movements, would owe their tactics directly to her. Even modern lobbying owes is existence to her organization and its impressive filing system concerning our national legislators.
The personal biography of Alice Paul is very secondary to that of her cause, as she literally dedicated her life to it, organizing, fund raising, picketing, going to jail, and even getting snubbed of her historic photo op by an unbelievably mean spirited Secretary of State when the Wilson Administration reluctantly switched sides just before the amendment’s passage. But far from being a dry bit of historical research, the book is alive with the vibrant characters surrounding Ms. Paul, the infighting between suffrage associations, and the political climate of the time. It is graced by twenty wonderful grainy black and white photographs as well as the cover montage all of which drive the zeitgeist home.
The Democratic Party, especially in the southern states whose chip-on-the-shoulder reactionary attitude since the Civil War was an ongoing national embarrassment for decades, is the major villain, but not the only one. Wilson, the first Democratic Party president since the Civil War went from polite opposition, to lukewarm acceptance, to bending to the political climate after the war so as not to detract from his League of Nations agenda. Oddly enough, in the first national election after the amendment was passed, and without Teddy Roosevelt’s “bull moose” party to split the Republican vote, a Republican Party President was elected.
The scenes of the foul prison conditions where women on hunger strikes were force-fed, the marches and the picket lines where they were jeered and attacked, the largely unsympathetic and brutish police who did nothing to protect them and rousted them to prison at every opportunity, the wealth of anecdotes that enliven the history, and the spirit of the largely well-to-do women who championed the cause and endured seven years of insult heaped upon injury will long remain with the reader.
Whether or not, in hindsight, the nineteenth amendment largely elevated the social consciousness of the nation, as its proponents imagined, or led to the disintegration of the American family (along with alcohol, recreational drugs and rock’n’roll) as its detractors predicted, or a bit of both took place, is wisely left to the reader’s imagination.