The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

by Elaine Weiss

Paperback, 2019




Penguin Books (2019), Edition: Reprint, 432 pages


"Nashville, August 1920. Thirty-five states have ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state is needed. It all comes down to Tennessee, the moment of truth for the suffragists, after a seven-decade crusade. The opposing forces include politicians with careers at stake, liquor companies, railroad magnates, and a lot of racists who don't want black women voting. And then there are the "Antis"--women who oppose their own enfranchisement, fearing suffrage will bring about the moral collapse of the nation. They all converge in a boiling hot summer for a vicious face-off replete with dirty tricks, betrayals and bribes, bigotry, Jack Daniel's, and the Bible. Following a handful of remarkable women who led their respective forces into battle, along with appearances by Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Frederick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Woman's Hour is an inspiring story of activists winning their own freedom in one of the last campaigns forged in the shadow of the Civil War, and the beginning of the great twentieth-century battles for civil rights"--… (more)

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½ (49 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member itchyfeetreader
A captivatingly readable narrative of the final weeks of a decade long fight to bring universal suffrage to the US through the ratification of the 19th amendment. Eye opening for the depth of the political shenanigans and blatant racism this exceptionally well researched book has a relevance today.
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“Carrie Catt was dismayed, but not deeply shocked, to find that, once again the freedom of American women might fall victim to the egos and ambitions of powerful men.”

Whilst Weiss provides a useful precis of the suffragist movement in the US from Seneca Falls onwards the focus of her attention here is the push to get the 19th Amendment ratified by a final 36th state. Tennessee was that state and as such much of the action plays out in Nashville although there are also some scenes in Washington and Ohio as she explores the backdrop of the upcoming Presidential election and the impact it had.
Weiss covers a huge amount of ground and provides great pen portrait of all the major players. And there are many players introduced. Both Carrie Catt’s National American Woman Suffrage Association (the more traditional political movement) and Alice Paul’s Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the National Woman's Party (the more radical group) were on the ground in Nashville as well as any number of female and male “Anti’s”. At first I found it a little challenging to keep up with all of the names and details but am glad I stuck with it as by the end these extra insights into the players was crucial in both understanding what happened and highlighting the final, painful dash to the finishing line. The details provided about many of the members of the Tennessee legislature were also helpful in understanding the double dealing and side changing that occurred as the voting got underway.
However whilst a fantastic read and insight into both the broader movements and the minutia of what it took for American women to gain the vote I am mostly left with some strong lessons from history:
1) The confidence both sides of the debate had with embracing racism to achieve their aims. Many of the white suffragettes were more than willing to ignore their African-American counterparts if it got the job done, going so far as to advise black suffragist groups and campaigners to stay away. On the Anti side, the claims were even more overtly racist calling on the still painful memories of the Civil War and the rise of the KKK to campaign against anything that ‘risked’ an increase in African American voting rights.
2) The number of women in the Anti parties. Their reasons did not resonate with me but provide a useful insight into todays conservatives who vociferously support legislation that blocks and limits women’s rights.
3) The influence of the media and special interests – in this case the railroads and liquor industries (no mean feat in an allegedly dry state like Tennessee). Money, power and influence of these groups spilled across events with legislators changing sides throughout debates as pressure was applied.
I think there is more to get form this one and imagine I will re-read again at some point in the future.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
A well researched study on women's quest to gain the right to vote in the United States and it sure wasn't easy. After the amendment passed Congress thirty six states have to ratify it. They have thirty five and need Tennessee to pass it to make it law. You really learn a lot about the different
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suffragettes and the state government officials in Tennessee. This is a knock down drag out fight and ultimately hinges on just a few people (mostly forgotten now) to lead to the laws ultimate passage. Anyone interested in history and more specifically women's history will enjoy this well done book.
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LibraryThing member PatsyMurray
A blow-by-blow description of the fight to make Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment and earn women the right to vote, Weiss's book is well-researched, moving and makes the personalities and events of that last great battle come alive. She doesn't shirk from showing the role race
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played in the suffrage movement and she places today's events in the context of the history of the fight for suffrage. This book had a big impact on me.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
This book says it is about the last few days of the fight for the 19th Amendment, as the force for and against suffrage gathered in Tennessee to either win or prevent the 36th state - the last needed for ratification. In reality, it is much broader than that, sweeping through the history of the
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Suffrage fight from the antebellum days to the final countdown, as players jockeyed for position and played politics in manners both dirty and clean. It was interesting to discover the dirty tricks played by the Antis, and the questionable legality of many of their maneuvers (as well as outright bribery, which is not of questionable legality but is illegal). Passions flared on both sides, perhaps made warmer by the fact that this was happening in the dog days of summer, as the nation headed toward the 1920 presidential election. The author presents each side much as the women (and some men) who were on that side experienced it, though her sympathies are plainly with the "Suffs". The wishy-washy attitudes of many of the men, and the downright hostility toward women voting, comes through loud and clear in the author's highly lucid and readable prose. It loses a half star for the sheer number of sentence fragments that can become distracting during the reading. Otherwise, a fine work that should be on the reading list of anyone who thinks that rights just sort of happen.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
After thinking about this book overnight, I've changed my rating to five stars. When an author can take a book, where we already know the outcome, but can make it not only interesting, but thrilling and heartfelt, it can Garner no less. Plus, I listened to this and the narrator Tania Gilbert was
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brilliant as well.

A book I truly believe every women should read. They will come away with a deep appreciation to the effort and pain that went into our having the right to vote. Yes, there are many names within, hard to keep track of, but you will come to know the key motivators quite well. These women were indefatigable in their fight, many were jailed, force fed and made to endure other indignities. Some were I'll, with underlying conditions, and yet on they fought.

I was surprised by the amount of women who were anti suffragettes, found their reasons interesting, even somewhat credible, looking back on it from today. But, it is clear the right to vote is a privilege and one hard earned, and should not be neglected with mundane excuses. According to the other since the eighties, more women than men have excercisd this right, and I can only hope that this continues and multiplies.

I learned so much history from this book, and at times, such as when Katt goes to the White House to thank President Wilson for his support, and finds after his stroke, a wreck of a man, I actually got teary eyed. Despite this being non fiction, I found this to be a very emotional book. What an admirable struggle, the rights for women, which still today, has a way to go.
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LibraryThing member Carolee888
There were so many people for and against women's suffrage that my head started to spin about midway through this book. It is extremely well documented in the back of the book under notes. I have read about the early days of the fight. One of my best friends is a descendant of Susan B. Anthony and
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Lucretia Mott is one of my ancestors. Therefore, I paid great attention to first chapters. For me, this book is a springboard to read further about other women on the pro-suffrage side. I was amazed at how much politics and the history of United States were entwined with the pro and anti side. In my own lifetime, I remember being shocked by the opinion of Phyllis Schlaffy who fought against the ERA. Now I understand. Her ideas were rooted in the Anti-Suffrage arguments and assertions.

Before reading this book, I had no idea of the huge number of women and men promoted and spoke for both sides. There were so many that it was overwhelming to keep track of them. I have learned so much and now want to read and learn even more. I have made a list of the people who I want to learn more about. This book is an important re-counting of the fight for the vote and fight to further women's rights.

I received a finished received copy of this book from the Publisher as a win from FirstReads but that in no way made a difference in my thoughts or feelings in this review.
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LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
Tedious and numbingly detailed description of the fight to have the 19th Amendment ratified in Tennessee, making it part of the U.S. Constitution.

It's also, ultimately, a downer because there's an awful lot of déjà vu all over again here. Split from within by opposing factions, tangled in the
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question of civil rights for African-Americans, struggling under the long shadow of the Civil War, and hysterically opposed by many women, the battle for equal rights, equal citizenship, and self-determination is a familiar one yet today.

It also proves the truth of a remark attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
An interesting read about ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment through the 36th state, Tennessee. I am saddened to see that the more things change, the more they remain the same. White feminism and women stanning patriarchy have never really gone away.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
It may be surprising to learn that Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, in 1920, giving women the right to vote in federal elections. This book provides a detailed history of the fight in the Tennessee legislature. Weiss highlights both groups of
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“Suffs” (American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party) as well as the “Antis,” their leaders, and the tactics they used. She also provides portraits of the key Tennessee legislators and other national figures, such as Warren G. Harding and Woodrow Wilson. She covers the various forces for and against the movement and how they attempted to influence the outcome. It may not be surprising to learn that special interests, bribery, racism, intimidation, and mudslinging were involved.

This book is a thorough examination of a single episode in the seven decades-long history of the US women’s suffrage movement. While it does provide biographical information about the founders of the movement, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it is more focused on those present during the Tennessee debate, such as Carrie Catts and Sue White. I think the author does a good job of evoking the time period and the book includes numerous historical photos. It helped me gain an even deeper appreciation of the right to vote.
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LibraryThing member Ghost_Boy
Kind of got annoyed reading this book. Not because of the book, but more the fact in high school this subject isn't well taught. They treat it like a footnote. Usually they talk about Susan B. Anthony and that's the end of the story. Reading this book, and others, that is not the case at all.
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There's so much to cover. Most of the women aren't well known and some of them should be more known. Some of the women that are well known aren't good ones to look up to either.

I think the thing that stands out with this book is the fact it doesn't ignore the elephant in the room. Race became an issue for the white women. It's upsetting to learn the the white women were puppets to the Confederates. They thought if women could vote, that meant blacks could vote too, they couldn't have that. They went out of there way to make sure blacks couldn't vote. Wasn't until years later black women had the same rights. That is why it's important to know the difference between women's rights and black women's rights.

One critique I do have about the writing is I feel the author put her own opinions in at some points that weren't needed. It's not the best non-fiction book I've read, but she made it interesting and somewhat easy to read.

Also, this book helped me understand about voting rights and how this country still isn't fully there yet. Take a look at this election, we have some moron that clearly wants to make sure he wins again. Sorry to get political, but this year I've gone there and this book helped me find some sanity. At least some people care about the history of voting rights.
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Physical description

432 p.; 5.46 inches


014312899X / 9780143128991
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