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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


And every day this summer there was another article about a cheeky fellow in Boston named Charles Ponzi, who had convinced thousands of people to give him their money with promises of too-good-to-be-true investment returns: double your money in ninety days. Ponzi's clever pyramid scheme was definitely too good to be true, and he would soon be under arrest. Even the national pastime, baseball, was under a cloud of suspicion: rumors were circulating that several Chicago White Sox players had deliberately made bad plays to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for cash from gamblers. All this only added to the national dyspepsia; Americans felt as if they'd been fed too many lies, taken for chumps one too many times.

The newly minted presidential candidates had quickly picked up on the zeitgeist. Republican nominee Warren Harding was already talking about a return to "normalcy" and "America First," which Catt understood meant a retreat from progressive ideas and a slide back to comfortable, conservative policies. Democrat James Cox was carefully hedging his bets on everything. If the amendment didn't pass now, before the election, before the nation swung into an isolationist, reactionary frame of mind, it might never pass at all.

Miss Josephine Pearson was dusty from the soot flying into her trainÕs open windows and a bit stiff from the hard wooden-slat seat, but she didnÕt mind the discomforts. Pearson had received a telegram earlier that Saturday afternoon at her home in Monteagle, a hamlet perched high on TennesseeÕs Cumberland Plateau.

"Mrs. Catt arrived. Our forces are being notified to rally at once. Send orders-and come immediately." She was to take command in Nashville.

The summons thrilled her. As president of the Tennessee State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage and also head of the state division of the Southern Women's League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, Josephine was the proud leader of the Tennessee Antis. Now the fight had come home to her Volunteer State. This would be Tennessee's time of trial and, she prayed, triumph. With God's help, it would meet the challenge of beating back the scourge of woman suffrage, holding fast against the feminist epidemic sweeping the nation and now threatening her home. This was her crusade and this was her moment.

She was fifty-two years old, and all of her training-college, graduate degrees, and her years as an educator-had prepared her for this mission. She knew she was doing God's will, fulfilling a sacred vow to her beloved mother, who had understood the dangers of female suffrage, how it mocked the plan of the Creator, undermined women's purity and the noble chivalry of men, and threatened the home and the family.The Bible said a woman's place was in the home, as loving wife and mother, not in the dirty realm of politics, not in the polling booth or in the jury box, where her delicate sensibilities could be assaulted, her morals sullied and even corrupted. Her men knew what was best for her, would protect and cherish her, make laws and decisions for her benefit. Pearson felt there was no need to question the wisdom of Tennessee men or Tennessee laws.

But the threat went beyond this. Woman suffrage could upend the supremacy of the white race and the southern way of life. After the brutal disruptions of the Civil War and the upheavals of Reconstruction-when black men were allowed to vote (and some were even elected to the legislature) but former Confederate soldiers were considered traitors and stripped of their voting rights-the southern states had finally achieved a degree of equilibrium, in terms of restoring racial and political relations, the Pearson family believed. Jim Crow laws kept blacks in their place. But if a federal amendment mandated suffrage for all women, that would mean black women, too. Then Washington could demand that black men be allowed to vote, and that was totally unacceptable.

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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