cover image The Woman’s Hour: The Last Furious Fight to Win the Vote

The Woman’s Hour: The Last Furious Fight to Win the Vote

Elaine Weiss. Viking, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-525-42972-2

Despite the story’s foregone conclusion, historian Weiss (Fruits of Victory) orchestrates a page-turning reconstruction of the last push to ratify the 19th Amendment in Tennessee in 1920. The drama reaches hair-raising heights in the last half of the book as support for the so-called “suffs” falls away under pressure from corporate lobbyists, outraged “antis,” and Tennessee’s unique state constitution. Weiss nimbly organizes a large ensemble of suffragettes, protesters, and politicians, and she smoothly punctuates her scenes of high-stakes action with history of the recent world war and the 70-year battle for legalizing votes for women. Weiss doesn’t flinch from depicting the political machinations on all sides. If suffragette leaders Carrie Catt of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Sue White of Alice Paul’s Women’s Party get more attention than Josephine Pearson and the antis, it is perhaps because the anti tactics of bribes, threats, intimidation, ruses, liquor, and relentless appeals to racism are less moving than the suffs’ pleas for real democracy. Readers will find in the political landscape of 1920 features familiar today: corporate shaping of legislation, bitter partisanship, and the intense effort by some groups to obstruct what looks from most angles like simple justice. Weiss’s remarkably entertaining work of scholarship provides a thorough and timely examination of a shining moment in the ongoing fight to achieve a more perfect union. Photos. (Mar.)