The Woman's Hour

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 May 2018

Member Reviews

When I began this book, I was prepared to be disappointed as it billed itself as telling a narrow story about the fight for ratification of the 19th amendment in Tennessee. Instead, what I got was the story of the fight for ratification on a national scale told through the lens of the fight for ratification in Tennessee. It was excellent as it told the history of all of the major players from Seneca Falls through the end of ratification. It was well told and compelling and did not shy away from telling the issues with the fight for women's suffrage (mostly racial issues) as well as its successes. If you are looking to better understand the suffrage movement on the whole, this is a great place to start.
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The Woman’s Hour : The Great Fight To Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss is a beautifully written and researched work of nonfiction that reads like a thriller!  It is full of fascinating characters and intrigue that are made even more fascinating by the fact that they were real people involved in real events and issues of their times:  World War I, race, big business, prohibition.

In the year 2018, it is easy to forget that almost one hundred years ago, a battle was fought to encourage the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution which gave voting rights to women.    The year was 1920 and those 28 words changed the history of this country: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." 

(By the way, America was not revolutionary and a groundbreaker when this amendment was ratified.  We were behind the times in that countries all over the world had already given women the right to vote.)

The battle had been hard fought over the course of almost seven decades, when ratification came to a head in the state of Tennessee.  Why Tennessee?  Well, after the 19th Amendment was proposed in 1919, thirty six states had to ratify it.  Tennessee was the thirty-sixth state whose vote would pass or kill this ratification.  

And most excitingly, at the moment of truth, when the vote was taken, the battle came down to single vote, a single male legislator, Harry Burn, from rural East Tennessee, who chose to cast his vote according to what he believed was right and what his mother was encouraging him to do, rather than what he was pressured to do by a large group of his constituency (and his party because he was a freshman legislator).  When it came down to a crucial vote during the last roll call, he took his mother’s letter from his pocket and re-read it: "Hurrah and vote for suffrage and don't keep them in doubt ... Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt ... With lots of love, Mama.” And changed sides and voted his conscience and changed the course of history for his country and its inhabitants who were women.

Who was Mrs. Catt?  Why one of the leaders of one of the Suffragette groups.  She was just one of a fascinating set of characters who impacted this moment of history.  And something that I learned from this book, is that this battle was often fought by women against women.  The “Antis” did not want women to have the vote and were quite vocal about it.  One said:  “I’d rather see my daughter in a coffin than at the polls.”  Two prominent New York sisters mentioned in the book did not speak to each other at all unless they were “clashing publicly” over the issue.  One was a “Suff” and one was an “Anti”.

Interesting men were at the heart of this battle too.  A onetime senator and publisher of a Nashville newspaper, Luke Lea, worked hard and spoke out vocally for ratification.  This colorful character at the end of World War I had once concocted a plan to kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm after the armistice while he was waiting to be deployed back home.  After abandoning a rather successful almost completed kidnapping attempt, he returned home to marry his dead wife’s sister.

World War I had a profound effect on the issue of women’s right to vote, as did the issue of race, and Prohibition.

I highly recommend this extremely well written and fascinating read and thank Viking and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy and for allowing me to review it.
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So much I did not know about the fight for a woman's right to vote. This book shows so many different sides and viewpoints. The dropping of a star is in part to how the flow just was a bit off as a result. Race and alcohol also play a much bigger part in the fight than I had previously realized. Definitely worth the read for history buffs!
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On a hot Nashville summer in 1920, after decades of unrelenting work, Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. In The Woman’s Hour, Weiss gives an in-depth look at the people and events that led to that historic moment—both the good and bad. 

What I love most in a nonfiction books is the feeling of learning something new. And this book certainly gave me that. I don’t think I ever realized how woefully little I knew about the women’s suffrage movement or the ratification of the 19th Amendment before reading this book. The amount of detail covered in this book was, at times, overwhelming and definitely slowed down my reading pace. It took me a while to get through this book—but honestly, that’s not always a bad thing. While I do think the book occasionally got bogged down in excessive detail, there is also something to be said for a book that genuinely attempts to fully recount a moment in history fairly and from all sides. I think this book does that. The Woman’s Hour isn’t just the story of Carrie Catt’s National American Women’s Suffrage Association, but also the more radical National Woman’s Party and the Anti-Suffrage movement led by both men and women. I especially appreciated that Weiss didn’t gloss over the racism that often went hand in hand with not only the Anti movement, but sometimes the suffrage movement itself. It’s important to remember that thought women got the vote in 1920, the right to vote was not and (in some cases, because of complicated voting laws and intimidation tactics) still is not truly universal. We’ve come a long way… but we still have a long way yet to go. 

This book isn’t particularly narrative and it may be too dry and detailed for some people, but for lovers of nonfiction and anyone looking to get a much deeper understanding of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States or exactly what it took to get the 19th Amendment to pass, I can’t imagine a better book to read.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for an ARC of this book in exchange for a honest review. 

Typically, anything non-fiction is not my jam BUT I kept hearing about this book and considering the plight of US women in 2017 I thought it was fitting to read it (and during Women’s History Month!). This book is not a “quick weekend read” by any means. There is a lot of information to take in and there were times where it was very overwhelming but what worked about this book was the way the story was laid out. Instead of reading like a textbook the author switched POVs between the Suffs, Antis, and Legislators. This made the book read more like an actual story than just someone’s historical account. Also, she dropped in little anecdotes that gave you insight into each figure. The level of research and detail in this book is amazing.

Were there negatives? Sure. For one the book was long and there were moments were it dragged but that’s history for you. Also, it kind of pissed me off to see that views on women and minorities have changed like -1% since 1920 when all this went down.  A few times I had to put the book down because it was difficult to read some of the nasty things that were said or thought. But all of that aside this is an important book to read especially if you are a women.
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I received this from netgalley.com in exchange for a review. 

Wow, every time we walk into a polling booth we should be remembering these ladies and the battle they fought for our right to vote!

4☆
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THE WOMAN'S HOUR by Elaine Weiss is an absolutely terrific non-fiction book which tells the story of the fight to ratify voting rights for women. As such, it makes me think of the quote attributed to Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Although author Weiss focuses mainly on the six weeks in 1920 during which the Tennessee legislature debated ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment, in THE WOMAN'S HOUR she notes that "winning the vote required seventy-two years of ceaseless agitation by three generations of dedicated, fearless suffragists .... the women who launched the movement were dead by the time it was completed; the women who secured its final success weren't born when it began." 

This is, frankly, a dense and detailed read but it is surprisingly suspenseful and a fascinating look at American attitudes towards women, with elements of regionalism/states' rights, class, and race included, too. I have already been talking about incorporating it in class discussions with our American Studies teachers.  THE WOMAN'S HOUR received starred reviews from Library Journal ( saying "essential for all libraries and readers interested in this vital issue") and Publishers Weekly.

For more ideas on truly inspirational women, see the display in the library; plus, check out more ideas online from Goodreads regarding how well-behaved women seldom make history (a list of recommended titles from Elaine Weiss) and see a new feature called  "Overlooked" which profiles women whose obituaries were not previously published by The New York Times. 

Links in live post:
https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/1186-elaine-f-weiss-what-to-read-this-women-s-history-month
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/obituaries/overlooked.html
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BookFilter Review: Many books have been written about the fight by women to get the vote in the United States -- HBO had a noble miniseries about it just a few years ago. This new popular history by journalist Elaine Weiss is a highly entertaining addition. It smartly zeros in on the final battle: the political shenanigans in Tennessee to ratify the 19th Amendment. This is a ticking clock scenario: 35 states have ratified it and the rest (mostly the former slave states) have rejected it or won't even bother. That leaves Tennessee. If women don't achieve victory here, they must start from scratch and wait years or perhaps a decade or longer to garner their basic civil rights. So Weiss captures the urgency. Better still, this feels like a battle between women, not women pleading with men. Major figures include the head of the traditional, more socially respectable suffragette movement founded by Susan B. Anthony and others, the fighters in the more radical wing unafraid of pickets and ACT-Up style stunts and the formidable women campaigning against suffrage. Bribery, heart attacks, mysterious trouble-makers, false charges, petty and unadmirable abandonment of racial justice (no one is a saint here) to achieve this (partial) victory -- it's all here. Without obscuring the story, Weiss also manages deft histories of the movement, its racial politics, biographies of key players and more. If you don't know your suffragette timeline you'll be on the edge of your seat until the end. -- Michael Giltz
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The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss follows a handful of brave women who fought for the right to vote with cameos from Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Frederick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The narrative presented primarily takes place in Nashville, August 1920. By this time only one more state is required for ratification of the nineteenth amendment and everything fall on Tennessee. The opposition features politicians with careers at stake, liquor companies, railroad magnates, and racists who don't want black women voting. There are also the 'Antis' - women who fear that their own enfranchisement will cause the moral collapse of the Unite States. All of these elements come together to face off in Nashville replete with dirty tricks, betrayals and bribes, bigotry, Jack Daniel's, and the Bible.

This history book by Elaine F. Weiss is easily one of the most readable and comprehensive books on the women's suffrage movement focusing on ratification and Tennessee that I have ever had the opportunity to read. I've been reading quite a bit lately about that time period and women's suffrage, but this is hands down the most informative when it comes to such a key moment in history. The author also does a fantastic job of integrating history of the movement into the primary as well - I, for one, particularly enjoyed seeing Victoria Woodhull's name get brought up since she's so often left out (I'm glad that people are really beginning to learn more about her life). The author also does a great job of starkly laying out all of the movement's detractors, so matter-of-factly detailing their means, methods, and motivations for being on the other side of history. Finally, I'd also like to mention that the Weiss also does a brilliant job of making her history book feel incredibly timely. Of course, the main events in the book take place 98 years ago, but she still does a fantastic job of making their battle feel like fresh and current.

Overall, I highly recommend this new non-fiction book from Elaine F. Weiss all about everything finally coming together after a decades long struggle for women to cast their ballots. Every page of this inspiring 400+ page tome is inspiring and well worth your time. I will definitely be keeping my eyes out for future projects from this author.
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This book on women's suffrage hones in on the final days in Tennessee before the court case that was key to the vote comes to an end.  The best bits of this were the parts that introduced the reader to the historical players in the suffrage movement.  For me, the descriptions of the battles fought along the way began to feel repetitive and cumbersome to the narrative.
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