I never shy away from books about strong women. It doesn’t hurt that one of my girls wants to be the President, so we also go through a lot of political books. This year, being the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment, there are a lot of new books coming out with great history of amazing women.
Here are some of the ones that I have found that are specifically about the women’s suffrage movement. You can check out earlier posts for books generally about strong women who have led the way.
Right from the very beginning of the creation of the United States, there were women who wanted the right to be included. We laugh when Angelica Schuyler sings about it in Hamilton, but Abigail Adams asked her husband to include it in the laws of our new nation. He obviously didn’t include that. One can see from the many books on the history of the women’s rights movement that it started with the abolitionist movement. As we can learn from Doreen Rappaport’s fabulous Elizabeth Started All the Trouble, it was when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were not allowed to be delegates at a meeting in London when they realized that they were going to have to fight for women’s rights. Elizabeth Started All of the Trouble is a great place to start with the learning the history of the suffrage movement. It shows the variety of women involved over the years and some of the horrible things that men said as to why women shouldn’t have the right to vote. A rich introduction to the history. (Ages 6-10)
Marching with Aunt Susan by Claire Rudolf Murphy is a great look at the women’s suffrage movement through the eyes of a child. Bessie was a young girl in 1895 and she was from a progressive home in Berkeley, CA. Bessie struggled to understand why girls couldn’t do all of the things that boys could. She wound up getting involved in the suffrage movement with her Aunt Mary who was close friends with Susan B. Anthony. To Bessie, the suffrage movement made perfect sense, after all, her mother voiced her opinions. In contrast, her best friend Rita lived in a more traditional home where her father controlled everything and women were supposed to take care of the house and stay silent. While the referendum they specifically marched for in this story didn’t pass, it is a great way to see a part of suffrage history. There is also a ton of really useful information in the back matter. (Age 6-10)
Barb Rosenstock looks at the fight for suffrage framed as a boxing match in Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote. Paul was a different breed of suffragette. She saw protests in England for the right to vote there and brought that idea back to the United States. The day before President Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated, Paul planned a parade for women’s rights in Washington, DC. Paul was also the brain behind the silent sentinels who stood outside of the White House for months, silently protesting in white dresses and holding signs. A great book about history as well as activism. (Age 6-10)
Dean Robbins also looks at Alice Paul in his book Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right To Vote. This book is for slightly younger audiences and shows readers what sparked Alice Paul’s drive for women’s rights and then focuses on the Silent Sentinels. (Age 4-8)
Lest we forget, there were women around the country fighting for women’s rights. I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White gives us a glimpse at Esther Morris of Wyoming. She was a curious child and realized that with a bit of work, she could do most anything, including opening her own business at 19. But what she couldn’t do was vote. This informative text shows how Esther Morris was involved in getting Wyoming to be the first territory in the Union to give women the right to vote, 50 years before the 19th amendment! An interesting biography we don’t often hear about. (Ages 6-10)
Inspired by the women in her own family, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand learned to be bold and brave. In Bold and Brave: 10 Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote, Senator Gillibrand encourages young people to “stand up, speak out, and fight for what you believe in.” She does this by providing one page biographies of 10 important women who helped in the process of getting women the right to vote. I was especially intrigued by Juanita Idar, who started the League of Mexican Women, was also the Publisher of a Spanish newspaper in Texas that had been founded by her father. Backmatter includes a timeline before and after the 19th amendment was ratified. (Ages 7-12)
An interesting story, now that I’ve been reading a bunch of books about the Women’s Suffrage movement, is that of Harry Burn. He was a young member of the Tennessee House and he cast the tie breaking vote to help the state move forward with ratifying the amendment and becoming the 36th state, the final state needed, to change the Constitution. He had been anti-suffrage for political reasons, but a letter from his mother, who wanted the vote, convinced him to change his mind and vote with his conscience. Elisa Boxer tells this story in The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History. This book is a great way to tell the story to young readers and perhaps get them interested in the political process. (Ages 5-10)
That story is also a part of Camilla Can Vote, a book by Mary Morgan Ketchel and Senator Marsha Blackburn. I have not been able to read this yet, but one reviewer explains it perfectly: “This book tells an important history lesson for all Americans through the lens of a school girl, Camilla, who becomes transported in time to August 18, 1920 in Nashville, Tennessee. Camilla witnesses the historic vote of Harry T. Burn, a young legislator from East Tennessee whose mother encouraged him to break the 48-48 tie in the Tennessee House of Representatives.” Camilla is a character that children today can relate to today and feel empowered. (Ages 6-10)
Kate Messner has put out a new series of books called History Smashers. These are books that aim to educate kids on the good and bad parts of American history. We purchased History Smashers” Women’s Right to Vote, which tries to give the broader story of the efforts that went into getting the vote for women. It didn’t start with Susan B. Anthony, though she has gotten a lot of the credit. This book, with great illustrations by Dylan Meconis, helps make the Women’s Suffrage movement more accessible to kids. The reality is that the story is fascinating, so why not let kids delve into topics like this. (Ages 9-14)
For the next age group up, there is a marvelous young readers adaptation of Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour: Our Fight for the Right to Vote. The book helps young readers see not only the woman’s suffrage movement, but all of the work that led up to the vote in 1920 to ratify the 19th amendment. It is fascinating to see how the movement started out of the abolitionist movement and to see the perspectives of both the people fighting for and against suffrage. The main focus was on the events leading up to the 1920 vote in Tennessee to get the 36th state to ratify the amendment. A must for anyone interested in this period of history. (Ages 10-16)
Another amazing book for older kids is the forthcoming Finish the Fight! The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Veronica Chambers and The Staff of The New York Times (Aug. 18, 2020). This is one of the new books being published by Versify, a new imprint of HMH curated by Kwame Alexander. That’s a lot of pretty impressive names even before you get to the content. But this book is full of amazing content. It acknowledges the names that we have heard throughout history, but throws in the stories of the many Black, Native American, Latinx, and Asian women who were involved with the struggle suffrage. Told as mini-biographies, this is a great way to see the wider perspective of the fight for women’s suffrage. (Ages 8+)
* Thank you #NetGalley for a digital ARC, all opinions are my own.
One thing that was apparent as I was reading many of these books is that voting rights have been a rough road. While the Women’s Suffrage movement evolved out of the Abolitionist movement, even after women won the vote, there were still a lot of disenfranchised people. Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America by Deborah Deisen looks at the history of voting rights in the United States. It doesn’t side step the fact that when the Constitution was written, rights were for white men, preferably property holders. (Ages 5-9)
It is really amazing to see the volume of books being published in honor of the 100th anniversary and simply as a way to allow kids to get a better understanding of the suffrage movement. I’m sure that I learned a thing or two reading through all of these books.