Award-winning journalist and writer Elaine Weiss discussed her new book The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight To Win The Vote on November 15, 2018 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of her national book tour.
The Woman’s Hour focuses on the nail-biting climax of one of the greatest political battles in American history; the fight to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Thirty-five states have ratified the 19th Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state is needed or the amendment might die. After a seven-decade crusade, it all comes down to Tennessee during the Summer of 1920; it’s the moment of truth for the suffragists, and also for their antagonists, the “Antis.” The political freedom of half of the nation is at stake.
Elaine Weiss’s magazine feature writing has been recognized with prizes from the Society of Professional Journalists, and her by-line has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as reports and documentaries for National Public Radio and Voice of America. She has been a frequent correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.
During her opening remarks, Weiss noted that her discussion and her book were about equal rights, democracy, and the Constitution; themes that she noted that Gerald R. Ford also felt deeply about. From her opening, Weiss included numerous historic photos, political cartoons, and images that illustrated the determination and efforts of not only the suffragists; but of those that opposed them. Throughout her presentation, Weiss also provided a background on the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the State of Michigan and in Grand Rapids.
Her book brings to life one of the most defining Civil Rights Struggles of our country. While it focuses on the deciding moments from Nashville, Tennessee, Weiss passionately outlines the seven-decade struggle and fight for the women’s right to vote. Following three generations work towards this goal, it all came down to a six-week period in Nashville, which may have been one of the last opportunities for women to win this battle, with only men voting on the outcome.
The story unfolds by starting from the beginning of the women’s rights movement in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 where Elizabeth Cady Staton declared demands for the women’s right to vote and also ‘equal pay, for equal work’. Fredrick Douglas, abolitionist and social reformer, was in attendance at that Convention and remarked that indeed women must demand the right to vote, for it would never be given to them.
The churches, communities, and the press of their day ridiculed women who fought for the vote. The propaganda that was used against them called them radicals, bad mothers, and traitors. While marching in their uniforms, white dress with yellow sashes, they were yelled at and had various items thrown at them, including rotten eggs. These suffragists were called-out for wanting to “leave their families behind” when they got the vote. Some politicians were worried that the women would vote them out of office. The textile industry was worried they would vote to eliminate child labor, which was cheap labor for the industry. The liquor industry worried that women would vote to enforce prohibition laws via the elected officials they supported.
Weiss paints the portrait throughout her discussion, and in her book, of this battle between the two sides, moving the story from horse-drawn wagon days to automobiles; highlighting the involvement (or lack thereof) from different Presidents and Presidential candidates, as well as the cultural changes of the country.
As “suffragists” and “antis” wage their efforts over those seven-decades, with numerous characters leading the charge for both sides, the final battle is set in the Summer of 1920 during that final ratification vote in Nashville, Tennessee. With numerous moments throughout its run, the ratification of the 19th Amendment finally brings half the nation into the American democracy.