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Excerpt from The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Woman's Hour

The Great Fight to Win the Vote

by Elaine Weiss

The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss X
The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 416 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt


If the Tennessee legislature could be persuaded, pressured, cajoled, and coerced (all these techniques would be needed, Catt was certain) to ratify the amendment, suffrage would become federal law, allowing every woman, in every state, to vote in all elections. Victory at last, hallelujah, and just in time for the upcoming presidential election.

But if Tennessee did not ratify, derailing the full enfranchisement of twenty-seven million women before the fall elections, all might be lost. The momentum was stalling after several state legislatures had voted down ratification this past spring and summer. Although the "No" votes in Georgia and Louisiana had surprised no one-nearly every southern state of the old Confederacy had rejected the amendment-the loss in more moderate, mid-Atlantic Delaware was a shock. A defeat in Tennessee, which enjoyed stronger suffrage sympathies and deeper organization than the other southern states, would allow the forces against suffrage to gain strength, new legal obstacles to be thrown into the path, men to forget what women had contributed to the Great War effort, women to lose heart. That crucial sense of inevitability, the public assumption that to support woman suffrage was simply to keep in step with the march of progress, was faltering. And that infuriating question-is America really ready for women to vote, to be equal citizens?-was bubbling up again. Adding to her agitation, the newspapers were filled with the sorts of stories that gave Americans good reason to be in a sour mood.

Even after seventeen million people had been killed in the so-called Great War, the world was still aflame. The Russian Bolsheviks were invading Poland and vowing to advance into Romania and Bulgaria, Latvia, and Lithuania; the Ottoman Turks were fighting the Greeks while continuing to massacre and deport Armenians; the Irish nationalist Sinn FŽin was skirmishing with British troops. Mexico was spiraling into civil war again; factions were battling in China. The premise, trumpeted by so many posters and in so many parades, that American men had fought and died in the War to End All Wars looked to be a fake.

Even the peace seemed chimerical: the negotiations at Paris had dragged on for months, and the U.S. Senate had recently refused to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, objecting to President Wilson's plan for a League of Nations to settle international disputes. Americans wanted nothing more to do with foreign entanglements. Catt thought the league was the only good thing to come out of the horrible war; she'd written and spoken in its favor and was disgusted by the backlash against it.

The war had brought neither the peace nor the prosperity the nation had been promised. As Catt's train sped toward Nashville, streetcar workers were striking in Chicago, coal miners were stuck in long, bloody lockouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois, garment workers were threatening in New Jersey. There'd been nationwide steel mill, coal, railroad, and shipbuilding strikes in 1919-more than two thousand strikes around the country-while race riots had erupted in many cities. The postwar economic recession had now deepened into a full-blown depression. National Prohibition, which Catt had supported as a way to protect women and children from alcohol-fueled abuse, was only adding to the climate of violence, as federal agents pulled their enforcement shotguns on backwoods moonshiners and city bootleggers while mobsters jockeyed for turf with machine guns.

Anarchists were taking advantage of the turmoil, and accounts of exploding bombs in mail packages, in cars, and in offices and homes were a staple news item. The government was responding with raids, mass arrests, and deportations of suspected radicals (a pair of Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had recently been arrested in Massachusetts) authorized by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose own home had been bombed the year before. The "Palmer Raids" were executed by his ambitious young assistant J. Edgar Hoover, who'd begun keeping secret files on those who questioned or criticized the government, anyone who wasn't a "Good American." Carrie Catt was also being watched.

Excerpted from The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss. Copyright © 2018 by Elaine Weiss. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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