- Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Susan Ware
In Why They Marched, scholar Susan Ware paints a comprehensive picture of the women’s suffrage movement through a series of diverse biographical sketches about notable activists. Ware’s book is timely and in-line with discussions in 2019 about how to present the women’s suffrage movement in a nuanced and more accurate way that moves beyond the white middle- and upper-class narrative. The women and men (nineteen for the Nineteenth Amendment) highlighted in Ware’s text represent the multiplicity in the movement at the turn of the twentieth century. Ware’s main arguments are: first, the suffrage movement was a broad-based national and international campaign, spanning coast-to-coast and beyond U.S. borders and appealing to people from many walks of life; second, the campaign did not operate in a vacuum but rather became entangled with other social and political movements; and third, suffrage activists and organizations left behind cultural artifacts that can help us to tell their stories. Her book draws on many sources often overlooked by scholars—who typically focus on printed matter—from plaques, badges, and buttons to a death masque and a ballot box.
Why They Marched is arranged in three thematic sections. Each chapter opens with a cultural object of importance to the movement, which is connected to the personal story of the key protagonist or protagonists. Section One, the shortest, is “Claiming Citizenship,” which focuses on notable suffragists who found unique ways to insert themselves and their agenda into the political realm. Highlighted in this portion are: Susan B. Anthony and her illegal voting, Sojourner Truth and her sale of photographs to support traveling lectures, Emmeline B. Wells and her writings in advocacy of women’s suffrage and polygamy, Alice Stone Blackwell and her contributions to the Woman’s Journal, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her novels, poetry, and books that promoted women’s rights. Most interesting, entertaining, and accessible is the chapter on Anthony dramatically invading the male political realm to cast a ballot illegally in New York, and suffragists’ efforts to rationalize her actions. Also, although not specifically relevant to the struggle for women’s suffrage, equally intriguing for their attention to women’s agency during the period are the portions on the economic shrewdness of Truth in recognizing how to market her image to support herself when most women still very much depended on men, and Gilman’s decision to take her own life via chloroform poisoning, rather than succumb to breast cancer. [End Page 185]
Section Two, “The Personal Is Political,” explores how the decision to become a suffragist was transformative. It not only influenced campaigners’ public presence but also their personal lives. In this section, Ware includes the story of several women and men—Mary Johnston, Ida Wells-Barnett, Maud Nathan and Annie Nathan Meyer, Claiborne Catlin, Ray and Gertrude Foster Brown, Molly Dewson and Polly Porter, and Mary Church Terrell—and sheds light on how their activism influenced, among other things, their networks of friends and family, romantic partnerships, fashion, travel, and other aspects of their past, present, and future. She emphasizes that participating in the campaign was not a fleeting pastime; in fact, for some, it had deep implications. Particularly inspirational are the stories of Wells’s determination to challenge racism and organize the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago to educate local African American women about voting and citizenship rights, which created a new space to bring together the community of black women in the state in a largely racially segregated and discriminatory campaign. Also interesting for its unique dichotomy is the chapter on the sisters Maud and Annie Nathan, who diverged in their suffrage leanings. Although Maud became an influential New York supporter, Annie is one example of a well-educated and publicly active woman who did not support the cause. The issue of...