Goodier, Susan, and Karen Pastorello. Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017.
This week’s readings were on the suffrage movement and authors Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello in their book Women Will Vote contribute to a recent historiographical trend of placing at the center of a story the peripheral groups in a movement. Focusing on the long history of the suffrage movement in New York State (1848-1917), Goodier and Pastorello illuminate the contributions of five disparate groups: rural women, working-class immigrant women, black women, male suffragists, and radical women. While the formal connectivity between the groups was sparse, their simultaneous activism across upstate New York contributed to the success of the New York State suffrage referendum in 1917 and within a larger context, the eventual passage of the 19th federal amendment in 1920.
- Rural women – Goodier and Pastorello abandon the traditional notion that rural women were apolitical but rather showcase their activism in the granges, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and political equality clubs. Involvement in these entities ultimately, according to the authors, translated and/or were concurrent with women’s suffrage. For example, granges offered women “the possibility of becoming politically active in a mixed organization” (pg. 29) while the WCTU forged a broad political base (pg. 34). Furthermore, I believe it is also important to articulate the receptivity to a message. In considering the rural (and generally more conservative) context of rural farming communities, I enjoyed how the authors analyzed how lectures aided in winning “the acceptance of a number of progressive ideas in rural communities.” While theatre performances were sometimes perceived with “wickedness” and “political rallies [as] distasteful”, lectures provided (to some extent) a more non-controversial medium and form of entertainment (pg. 28). This relays the importance of what medium an organization uses in order to convey their message as well as considering who your audience is.
- Immigrant, working women – One important aspect Goodier and Pastorello include is how class-based interests and identities shaped suffrage activism. Immigrant, working women’s first activist threads were forged combating their poor working conditions, most notably in the Rochester Garment Workers strike. Within this context, suffragists made “a direct link between women’s poor working conditions and their lack of suffrage” (pg. 64). Most surprisingly, suffragists did not utilize assimilation tactics or emphasized americanization towards these women, a common theme in immigrant history. Rather, suffragists believed that the best avenue would be to empower them (pg. 57).
- African American Women- For African American women, both their gender and racial identities shaped their role in the suffrage movement. These women saw their need for suffrage differently compared to white women, whereas suffrage could be a tool to combat racial injustices such as lynching and vocational discrimination. However, African American women generally formed their own organizations a part from white women due to the participatory discrimination within white women’s suffrage organizations (pg.76). For example, African American suffragist Hester Jeffrey established the Susan B. Anthony Club for Colored Women not only for the goal to obtain suffrage but also to expand social and educational rights to African American women.
- Men- So much focus on suffrage scholarship has been devoted to women that it has only been recently where men’s efforts have been added to the historiographic conversation. While men were first reluctant to overtly express their support for women’s suffrage, overtime men’s work in the movement became more acceptable. Most notable is the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage of the State of New York which helped publicize the suffrage campaign through planned rallies, dances, and the new-medium of film (pg. 100). Furthermore, a growing number of men explicitly supported the suffrage campaign following Theodore Roosevelt’s (politically motivated) lead. Since Theodore Roosevelt was portrayed in popular culture as being ‘manly’, I was left wondering if this action was due to the jingoist/hyper-masculine culture seen during this time period, examined in texts such as Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization (1995) and Kristin Hoganson’s Fighting For American Manhood (1998).
- Radical women- This section of the text was of particular interest to me due to the strategies suffragists employed in the last few years of the suffrage campaign. In order to stimulate mass attention towards suffrage, radical suffragists used “unconventional and often innovative tactics” (pg. 114). One such approach was through their skillful crafting of their image to encompass suffrage as a positive step towards civilized progress. This included these “new woman” suffragists utilized new technology of the time in their crusade, such as the motorcars for a symbol of their independence and a means to disperse their ideas across the state (pg. 129).
Ultimately, Women Will Vote adds to our understanding that the backbone of the suffrage movement was supported by a variety of people across racial, class, and gendered lines. By broadening the scope in this examination to include these multiple perspectives provides a more nuanced view of the suffrage movement. The same energy that invigorated the NYS suffrage campaign led to the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment, with many of the same women and men now turning their attention to Washington.
- On one last side note, the local connections to Syracuse and other places across Upstate New York were fascinating to learn while reading this book. In particular, one historical actor I wish to underscore is Syracusan suffragist (and mother-in-law to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s L. Frank Baum) Matilda Joslyn Gage. Gage, who established the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) in 1869, is a fitting example of the grassroots focus and activist structure Goodier and Pastorello highlight in their text. Gage ultimately understood the importance of grassroots organization in order to reach many people across the state with the following structure of the NYSWSA: town/village society-auxiliary to the country society and county society-auxiliary to the state association (pg. 15). Her home, now a museum, is located in Fayetteville, NY. More information can be found here: http://www.matildajoslyngage.org/