Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote
by Susan Ware
Next year, as we all know (or should know), will see the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which, after a long struggle, finally gave women the right to vote. It is also the 100th birthday of the founding of the League of Women Voters in the same year.
A new book, Why They Marched, by Susan Ware, a Harvard historian at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, is a lively, and even entertaining, look at this arduous journey to women’s right to vote. Unlike most studies about the suffragist movement, Ware’s approach covers a broad range of contentious issues and personalities that actually made up the women’s rights movement.
Unfortunately, the history of the suffragist movement is tarnished by the racism of the times. In planning for a demonstration march by the suffragists in 1913, the Illinois delegation, which included an active organization of African American women, voted “to keep our delegation [in the parade] entirely white.” Instead, blacks were relegated to a separate section at the end of the parade. Some white members protested loudly but to no avail.
Ware continues: “Organized white women’s lack of interest in the voting rights of African Americans continued in the postsuffrage era, when both the League of Women Voters and the National Women’s Party consciously defined black voting rights as matter of race, not gender, and thus not of primary concern to their political agendas …. [and] marring what was supposed to be a movement for democracy and full citizenship.”
The book features nineteen suffragists from various backgrounds, which gives it its broad perspective. It is a clever way of introducing a variety of issues and people involved in the movement but are generally glossed over in historical women’s studies. It contains new information and is a great introduction to the births of both the 19th Amendment and the League of Women Voters. Get ready for 2020!
*The copy I got from the Library was given “In Memory of Anne Manvel from Larry & Beverly Webber.”