The Woman’s Hour is a nonfiction book that chronicles the final battle for ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which gave American women the right to vote.
The book explores the blood, sweat, and tears required to gain women’s suffrage in this country. Elaine Weiss shows how the core themes of American history and current-day affairs—race, class, money, gender, states’ rights, power, and democracy—all came into play in Nashville, Tennessee, as the Nineteenth Amendment was on the cusp of being ratified.
The book focuses on the final battle for the 19th Amendment in Tennessee, giving a more intimate look at the fight for women’s suffrage.
What I Liked
Everything – absolutely everything. This book was one of the most engaging, fascinating, and useful history books I’ve ever read. I love the prose, and the zooming in on a single event that defined the 70+ year struggle for suffrage.
I loved how the book highlighted the millions of unnamed, unheralded volunteers who stuck with this movement for their entire lives – diligently writing letters, sending bits of money, going to meetings, etc – all knowing that victory would only come some day. It was a sobering reminder that anything worth doing is going to take a long time to do it right.
I loved how the book clearly explained the nuance in history. The further back an event is in history, the more we simplify it. And we forget that the issue was actually as complicated then as our current issues are to us now. For example, it’s easy to simplify the battle for suffrage as a men vs. women fight. It wasn’t. The battle was drawn along four lines. There were pro-suffrage men, anti-suffrage men, pro-suffrage women, and anti-suffrage women.
And, note that all the voting power was held by men, so granting suffrage necessarily required men voting for suffrage. What was so interesting was that most anti-suffrage men did not actively campaign. They instead just leaned on the anti-suffrage women to make their arguments. It was all topsy turvy confusing.
I also loved the final anecdote of the story (spoiler!) about how the final swing vote was won. The key vote was this one state senator from a strongly anti-suffrage district. He was going to vote the amendment down until he got a letter from his Mom, who told him simply to do the right thing and to use his vote well. He changed his vote and voted for the 19th Amendment and it passed into law. With the story, I loved how the book was able to weave a victory story that used a single person to make a point without singling out a single hero. Even though this state senator gave the last swing vote, that vote only happened because of all the work – awareness, letter writing, meetings, etc – that had been put in for years to persuade a single person (his Mom), who, when she had a chance to wield power, wielded it in a way that made the world a better place.
What I Did Not Like
I do not like that this book is not required reading in American history classes.