This year, the publishing market is flooded with books about the politics of being a woman in the world. One of the reasons it’s such a hot topic: 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United Kingdom -- and it be clear, it didn’t apply to all women at first, just property-owners over thirty and certain university graduates. Women in the United States had to wait two more years for the 19th Amendment to be added to the Constitution in August of 1920.
There are books about women’s suffrage for every kind of reader, from those who want a detailed non-fiction account of the struggle to lovers of historical novels -- and even for knee-high picture-book enthusiasts. Here are six of our favorites, starting with a title that’s been in the news this week.
By Elaine Weiss
First among the new books about women’s suffrage is The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss, which Viking published in March. Yesterday, the Hollywood Reporter announced that Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television intended to adapt The Woman’s Hour into a TV drama, with Secretary Hillary Clinton as executive producer. Weiss begins her acclaimed history with a screen-worthy scene: three women, each representing a different faction in the rights debate, racing by stream train towards Nashville’s Union Station “to command forces in what would prove to be one of the pivotal political battles in American history.” (Tennessee was the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment; if it passed there, 27 million women would get the vote in the upcoming presidential elections.) Publishers Weekly said of the book: “Weiss’s remarkably entertaining work of scholarship provides a thorough and timely examination of a shining moment in the ongoing fight to achieve a more perfect union.”
By Clarissa Harwood
In this historical novel set in England in 1907, an unlikely and uncertain romance springs up between Lilia, an agnostic, Cambridge-educated schoolteacher who’s a staunch supporter of women's rights, and Paul, an Anglo-Catholic family friend who is has recently entered the ministry. He admits to “a prejudice against the modern woman”; Lilia tells him that she doesn’t like the church “or the vengeful, punishing God it seems to promote.” Their clashing values complicate a growing personal attraction. One Goodreads reviewer wrote, “The prose is assured, all the characters are well rounded, the historical time and place well-integrated with the story.” Another said, "Impossible Saints is going on my 'love stories for feminists' list, as well as my 'outstanding five-star historical fiction' list."
By Diane Atkinson
Rise Up, Women is a big, capacious book about over 100 women – some famous, most not -- who took part in the British suffrage movement between 1903 and 1914, when WWI interterrupted their efforts. Atkinson challenges the casual assumption that the suffragettes were predominately middle class, bringing to life the many working women who fought alongside them, despite sometimes greater dangers and societal challenges. Reviewing Rise Up, Women in The Guardian, Caroline Moorehead wrote, “What stays in the mind… is the sheer bloody-minded determination and courage of a large number of these campaigners, as well as the little remembered brutality of the police and the government towards them.”
By Sally Nicholls
In her young adult novel, Things a Bright Girl Can Do, prize-winning children’s author Sally Nicholls imagines the lives of three very different young women living in London between 1914 and 1918. Evelyn, 17, is the most privileged of the girls. She wants to go to Oxford, but her parents are appalled at the prospect. May is a pacifist, with a widowed social reformer mother; she falls in love with Nell, a girl who’s grown up in poverty in the East End. All three become embattled suffragettes, but face individual challenges. Nicholls says of her novel, “I wanted this book to feel like an Edwardian children’s book, with police brutality, trenches, hunger strikes and lesbian kisses.”
By Winifred Conkling
Winifred Conkling’s widely praised book is intended for middle-and-high-school students, but it might well appeal to adult readers. Laura Simeon wrote in the School Library Journal: “Expertly balancing the human interest focus on individual suffragists with critical contextual information, Conkling gives readers an overview of the movement in all its complexity from the origins of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Influential leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Victoria Claflin Woodhull, and Alice Paul are introduced as well-rounded human beings who each wrestled in their own ways with aligning their desire for women's suffrage with questions of morality and political strategy over abolition, temperance, and pacifism, among other issues.”
By Lisbeth Kaiser, with Illustrations by Ana Sanfelippo
This picture book, from Frances Lincoln Children's Books' “Little People, Big Dreams” series, is educational eye candy of the sweetest kind. Books in the series, intended for children in kindergarten through third grade, focus on prominent women in the arts and sciences, from Marie Curie to Rosa Parks. This volume follows the life of Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the founders of the suffragette movement, from her childhood in Manchester, England, where her parents worked to redress social inequality, to her leading role, as a married woman and mother, in the fight for voting rights. Kaiser wisely simplifies Pankhurst’s story for young readers but lays the groundwork for further age-appropriate inquiry, and Sanfelippo’s pictures paint an appealing picture of Pankhurst and her times.