Johanna Neuman's Gilded Suffragists is a brilliant—and beautifully written—study of the campaign for women’s right to vote. Neuman deftly illuminates "the upstairs long missing from women's history," recovering for the ages the contribution of elite society women to the movement. Suffrage was a team sport, a collective effort by women of all classes, but Neuman shows that the gilded suffragists' contributions came at a critical moment to push Votes for Women over the finish line. Their money (and their ability to extract contributions from others) was crucial; but perhaps most importantly, they leveraged their social power to make suffrage a popular, mainstream cause. That they have been lost to history is no accident. Despite having championed a winning cause, these doyennes of New York society lost in the internecine battle over the movement's legacy in the years that followed as labor groups and middle class activists questioned their motives and excised their efforts from the historical record. In her own time, Alva Belmont lamented that suffrage leaders had "forgotten who is responsible for this victory. But I don't care. I shall go down in history." One hundred years later, thanks to Neuman, the legions of gilded suffragists who worked for the cause have finally had their say.
I cannot put this book down! It is so interesting and so well-written with photos that help tell the story about these very incredible and determined women. We have decided to use this book for our first book for our book club. I can't wait for Ms. Neuman's next book to come out.
Was difficult to keep track of all the names. It made the reading kind of choppy for me. I did learn things I didn’t know but I just felt all the name dropping was somewhat cumbersome. Might have been better if I’d had a better background.
Subtitled, The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women's Right to Vote, Johanna Neuman's book credits the forgotten women of the upper class who joined the movement for suffrage.
Just as today the media loves wealth and beauty, a hundred years ago the media loved the elite denizens of New York, helping to establish the power of the 'celebrity endorsement.'
When socialites decided to form their own club, become involved with the betterment of the immigrant and the poor, and support women's right to self-government, they provided much-needed funding and a public voice from within the establishment.
They thought it important to be well dressed and feminine to counter the stereotype of suffragettes as masculine or hysterical. Some took to soap boxes while others held elegant soirees. The women publicly paraded in white with banners, an act of nonconformity that brought ridicule and angry threats. Eventually, enlightened men supported their wives, marching with them, while others' disapproving husbands sat grimly on the sidelines.
WWI had a huge impact on the movement. The Suffragettes were criticized for drawing the president's attention away from the war, and it was then that they became targets of police brutality and inhumane treatment in prison.
I was moved by the story of Jeanette Rankin, a pacifist Montana Republican and the first women elected to the U.S. Congress. When President Wilson asked Congress to approve entering WWI, Rankin was under huge pressure. Should she stand by her pacifist beliefs? Or, representing all women and their political future, must she prove that women could rise to the occasion and support war when circumstances required it?
When Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony published their History of Woman Suffrage they omitted or distorted the history of the movement, emphasizing their own roles as founders. Over the years, the Gilded Suffragists were relegated to the sidelines of history and then were forgotten.
Neuman locates the movement in the history of the early 20th c., a time of great social change, including the establishment of the federal income tax, laws overseeing business, and population shifts from rural to urban areas.
I finished this book August 18; it was on August 18, 1920, that the 19th Amendment was passed. In some ways, women have come a long way, and yet our rights for self-determination and political equality are under threat. A hundred years ago society's darlings, dressed in couture fashions and big hats, stood up for social equality. I would like to know, are today's women of the 1% as willing or interested in standing up for political equality? Or is it only the new class of elites from the entertainment business that have the courage?
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.