In 1848, a small group of women gathered in the Seneca Falls, NY home of Mary M’Clintock. Their goal that Sunday morning was radical: to set in motion a movement to obtain the vote for women. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who went on to devote their lives to the movement, were among them that day. The women noticed that it was 72 years since the Declaration of Independence was published and they decided to use that document as the template for their own call for suffrage.
As historian Doris Weatherford points out in her fascinating history, Victory for the Vote: The Fight For Women’s Suffrage and the Century that Followed, it would be another 72 years until that goal was attained. What a thought! With the lens of hindsight, Weatherford is able to bring together the factual history and the social history of the suffrage movement–and the feminist movement in general–in dramatic and insightful ways. As she writes, “From the tiny town of Seneca Falls in 1848, a mighty flood of disruptive ideas reached around the world and into the twenty-first century.” None of those women at the first convention in Seneca Falls would live to see the the amendment passed in August, 1920 but where would we be without their determination and leadership?
Weatherford actually starts the story earlier, in 1637, the year Anne Hutchinson broke away from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, rebelling when her right to religious dissent was curtailed. She goes on to write about the influence of the Quakers, who always gave women more of a voice than men. The fight for the vote is the centerpiece of the book, but true to the subtitle, Weatherford goes on to tell the story of the more recent fights for civil rights for women: for equal pay, for reproductive rights, for passage of the ERA, and for rights for minority women.
There are so many wonderful stories about individual women, many of whom we’ve forgotten. Weatherford tells the famous ones, like the one about the stirring “Ain’t I A Woman” speech by Sojourner Truth, but also the stories about the unknowns, the stories we should have been taught. She writes about Victoria Woodhull, who ran for President in 1872 before women had the vote and nominated Frederick Douglass as her running mate. I worked with Weatherford on the book Women in the Literary Landscape and was impressed by her depth of knowledge and the way she was able to tie together social and political history by bringing in just the right story to make a point. She does the same here. It’s a stirring reading experience, often inspirational. Nancy Pelosi wrote the Foreword to this edition of the book, another example of the juxtaposition of the personal and political.