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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Chapter 1
To Nashville

Carrie Chapman Catt had spent a long night, day, and early evening on trains clattering over a thousand miles of track from New York City to Nashville. In the hours she wasn't reading field reports and legal documents, rimless eyeglasses perched on her nose, she read the newspapers and indulged in the guilty pleasure of a detective novel.

By the time the train pulled into Nashville in the dusky twilight, it was hard to make out the copper-and-bronze statue of the messenger god Mercury perched atop the Union Station tower, greeting travelers to the bustling capital city. Minerva, the warrior goddess, might have been a more fitting figure for the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. Anthony's anointed heir, the supreme commander of its great suffrage army, the woman they called "the Chief." Carrie Catt had been summoned to lead her troops into the fray one last time. At least she dearly hoped this might be the last time.

She'd already devoted half of her life to the Cause, three decades of constant work and travel. Her hair was silver and wavy, and she wore it short and brushed close, parted in the center, easy to groom on the run. Her face, once angular and strikingly handsome, was fleshier now. Her heavy eyelids drooped a bit, and the line of her jaw had softened, but she retained the same sly, thin-lipped smile, piercing blue eyes, and arched eyebrows that made her look either surprised, amused, or annoyed depending upon how she deployed them. She was definitely not amused this evening; she was worried, and she wasn't sure she could take the strain much longer.

It was Catt's job-more precisely, her life's mission-to guide American women to the promised land of political freedom, securing for them the most basic right of democracy, the vote. For more than seventy years, since that first audacious meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848, generations of her suffrage sisters had faced public disdain, humiliation, rotten eggs, violent opposition, and prison as they petitioned, campaigned, lobbied, marched, and pleaded for their simple rights as citizens. Now the promise of the franchise, so long delayed, was within sight; the political emancipation of half of the United States' citizens was at stake. And here, of all places, where she'd never imagined it possible, in the South, in Nashville.Tennessee could become the elusive thirty-sixth state to ratify the federal woman suffrage amendment. Or it could end the quest in failure.

The Tennessee legislature would soon be called into special session to vote on ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, popularly called "the Susan B. Anthony Amendment," one simple sentence stating that a citizen's right to vote could not be denied on account of sex. Nothing revolutionary, to Carrie Catt's mind. It was really just a clarification, an essential correction, of the Founding Fathers' damned shortsightedness.

Just over a year earlier, in June 1919, the amendment had finally been pushed through both houses of the U.S. Congress-after forty years of willful delay. Catt had kicked up her heels and broken into a wild dance when that news arrived. The amendment then moved to the states for ratification. She knew it would be a tough slog: suffragists had to convince at least thirty-six state legislatures-three-quarters of the forty-eight states in the Union-to accept the amendment, while those opposed needed just thirteen states to vote it down and kill it. The ratification campaign proved even slower and uglier than Catt expected; she had been sure it would be over by now, but it wasn't. By midsummer 1920, thirty-five states had ratified the amendment, eight had rejected, three were refusing to consider; North Carolina and Tennessee were still up in the air, but North Carolina was a sure bet to reject. That left only Tennessee as a possible thirty-sixth state.

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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