Roses and Radicals

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For those younger readers who want to know about how women won the vote in the US this book is an ideal introduction.

Just like in the UK, the epic struggle to win the vote for women in the US took decades of protests and struggle. Zimet writes that the story has its origins in London at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention. Twenty four year old Elizabeth Cady Stanton boarded a ship with her new husband to take the 3,000 mile round sea trip to attend. She was a full time abolitionist.

Stanton and the other women who attended the convention were ushered into a separate gallery, where they were allowed to watch but not participate. The first day was a heated debate about whether the women should be allowed to be part of the convention; the vote was lost, but this was the beginning of the campaign for the vote for women in the US. Eight years later Stanton and a group of Quaker women launched the first women’s rights convention. Marches and petitions followed.

Unlike the UK, who had seen the huge Chartists demonstrations which involved women as well as men, in the US it was seen as very radical for women to march, as it challenged the notion of what was “lady-like”. Marching was associated with armies which were male.

The state was as brutal in the US as it was in the UK. Zimet writes that when arrested women were beaten, kicked and choked.

Despite the national government refusing to pass legislation giving women the franchise, state by state legislators passed motions allowing women to vote. The far west states Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho were the first to do so. The reasons: men outnumbered women, so giving women the vote would not make that much difference; it was also seen as a way of attracting women to move out west.

As states granted the vote, by 1919 the battleground moved to Tennessee where the opposition camp included the railroad industry, which thought giving women the vote would result in stronger child labour laws and higher wages for women. Despite the huge opposition to giving women the franchise, it was won by two votes. The youngest delegate, who everyone thought would vote against, voted for, as he had a note from his mum in his pocket which said, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy. Your Mother.”

Just like here, the battle for the vote was more than just being allowed to put a cross on a bit of paper, it was about challenging the basic status of women.

Zimet’s book is an excellent basic introduction to the story of how women won the vote in the US, but unsurprisingly given it is a book written for US teenagers, missing is any mention of the effects of the Russian Revolution in helping women win the vote in the UK and US.