Winning the Vote

Remembering the Ladies
Who Got Women the Vote

Winning the Vote:
The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement

Robert P.J. Cooney Jr. 2005, American Graphic Press in collaboration with the American Women's History Project; 479 pages, 960 illus.; $85, hardcover

Remember the ladies," wrote Abigail Adams in 1776 to her husband, the revolutionary leader and future President John Adams. Then, proving she was at least as radical as he was, she warned that if the leaders of the new nation failed to include women in the body politic, "[W]e … will not hold ourselves bound to obey any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

Acquiring that voice-winning the vote-took nearly a century and a half of struggle. But accompanying that slow revolution were profound changes in industrial production and communications, which made it possible for the fight for suffrage to be more thoroughly documented than any previous revolution. Robert P.J. Cooney Jr. has put hundreds of those documents together in his immense and long-awaited Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement.

Inside this collection are the faces of hundreds of women who led and participated in that fight-women with household names like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and like Inez Milholland and Louise Baldwin, famous or infamous in their day but now little known. There are photographs of meetings, mass demonstrations, and smaller acts of civil disobedience by women whose names are now lost. There are reproductions of pamphlets and flyers demanding the vote for women, along with some arguing against it; reproductions of the founding charters of the many organizations that worked for suffrage— national groups like the National Woman Suffrage Association and state and local groups across the nation—and hundreds of newspaper editorials and editorial cartoons endorsing and opposing suffrage, lampooning the suffragists and, sometimes, lampooning their opponents.

Cooney uses these materials to tell, in rich detail, the complex story of the national and state-by-state suffrage campaigns. Despite Abigail Adams' famous warning, the nation's founding fathers did not, in fact, "remember the ladies." Locked out of the franchise, women did not at first see themselves as a political force. But by the middle decades of the 19th century, their increasing presence and ultimate leadership in the movement to abolish slavery began to lead them to a movement of their own: On the one hand, fighting for the rights of others inspired them to think about their own rights; on the other, they were finding that they had a powerful political voice. In 1848, 300 people attended a women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY, organized by Stanton, Mott, and others. Two years later, in Massachusetts, 1000 people—including the former slave Frederick Douglass—participated in the first national women's rights convention.

Now there was a movement. It was denounced as "unwomanly." It was opposed by the liquor industry, which covertly financed many of the anti-suffrage efforts because of its fear-inspired by the prominence of women in the temperance movement-that an electorate with women in it would ban alcohol. (In fact, Prohibition would be enacted before women won the vote.) It was plagued by the same divisions over tactics, goals, and strategy that have cost so many movements time and energy. Yet in the 72 years that followed the Seneca Falls convention, the movement won: first, voting rights for women in some states, and finally, suffrage for all.

The story has been told before, of course, in more detail and with more frequency since the Second Wave Feminism of the 1960s and '70s incorporated women into U.S. history. What Winning the Vote offers is a vivid view of the actual faces and words that won the vote, if not full equality, for women.

Unfortunately, the view does not come cheap. The hefty $85 price tag may deter many people from purchasing Winning the Vote. You might, however, be able to persuade your local library to carry it. Think of the effort as a small action in the ongoing struggle for equal rights.

Judith Mahoney Pasternak

Judith Mahoney Pasternak, Paris-based activist-writer, is a veteran journalist in the alternative media, author of several books on travel and popular culture, and the former editor of WRL’s The Nonviolent Activist, the earlier incarnation of WIN. Her activist training was in the Second Wave of the feminist movement; since then, she has worked for peace, for social and economic justice, and for justice and self-determination for Palestine.