Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

The Woman's Hour

The Great Fight to Win the Vote

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
"Both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for every reader"--Hillary Rodham Clinton

Soon to Be a Major Television Event

The nail-biting climax of one of the greatest political battles in American history: the ratification of the constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote.

"With a skill reminiscent of Robert Caro, [Weiss] turns the potentially dry stuff of legislative give-and-take into a drama of courage and cowardice."--The Wall Street Journal

"Weiss is a clear and genial guide with an ear for telling language ... She also shows a superb sense of detail, and it's the deliciousness of her details that suggests certain individuals warrant entire novels of their own... Weiss's thoroughness is one of the book's great strengths. So vividly had she depicted events that by the climactic vote (spoiler alert: The amendment was ratified!), I got goose bumps."--Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

Nashville, August 1920. Thirty-five states have ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state is needed. It all comes down to Tennessee, the moment of truth for the suffragists, after a seven-decade crusade. The opposing forces include politicians with careers at stake, liquor companies, railroad magnates, and a lot of racists who don't want black women voting. And then there are the "Antis"--women who oppose their own enfranchisement, fearing suffrage will bring about the moral collapse of the nation. They all converge in a boiling hot summer for a vicious face-off replete with dirty tricks, betrayals and bribes, bigotry, Jack Daniel's, and the Bible.

Following a handful of remarkable women who led their respective forces into battle, along with appearances by Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Frederick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Woman's Hour is an inspiring story of activists winning their own freedom in one of the last campaigns forged in the shadow of the Civil War, and the beginning of the great twentieth-century battles for civil rights.
Chapter 1

...

To Nashville

Carrie Chapman Catt had spent a long night, day, and early evening on trains clattering over a thousand miles of track from New York City to Nashville. In the hours she wasn't reading field reports and legal documents, rimless eyeglasses perched on her nose, she read the newspapers and indulged in the guilty pleasure of a detective novel.

By the time the train pulled into Nashville in the dusky twilight, it was hard to make out the copper-and-bronze statue of the messenger god Mercury perched atop the Union Station tower, greeting travelers to the bustling capital city. Minerva, the warrior goddess, might have been a more fitting figure for the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. Anthony's anointed heir, the supreme commander of its great suffrage army, the woman they called "the Chief." Carrie Catt had been summoned to lead her troops into the fray one last time. At least she dearly hoped this might be the last time.

She'd already devoted half of her life to the Cause, three decades of constant work and travel. Her hair was silver and wavy, and she wore it short and brushed close, parted in the center, easy to groom on the run. Her face, once angular and strikingly handsome, was fleshier now. Her heavy eyelids drooped a bit, and the line of her jaw had softened, but she retained the same sly, thin-lipped smile, piercing blue eyes, and arched eyebrows that made her look either surprised, amused, or annoyed depending upon how she deployed them. She was definitely not amused this evening; she was worried, and she wasn't sure she could take the strain much longer.

It was Catt's job-more precisely, her life's mission-to guide American women to the promised land of political freedom, securing for them the most basic right of democracy, the vote. For more than seventy years, since that first audacious meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848, generations of her suffrage sisters had faced public disdain, humiliation, rotten eggs, violent opposition, and prison as they petitioned, campaigned, lobbied, marched, and pleaded for their simple rights as citizens. Now the promise of the franchise, so long delayed, was within sight; the political emancipation of half of the United States' citizens was at stake. And here, of all places, where she'd never imagined it possible, in the South, in Nashville.Tennessee could become the elusive thirty-sixth state to ratify the federal woman suffrage amendment. Or it could end the quest in failure.

The Tennessee legislature would soon be called into special session to vote on ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, popularly called "the Susan B. Anthony Amendment," one simple sentence stating that a citizen's right to vote could not be denied on account of sex. Nothing revolutionary, to Carrie Catt's mind. It was really just a clarification, an essential correction, of the Founding Fathers' damned shortsightedness.

Just over a year earlier, in June 1919, the amendment had finally been pushed through both houses of the U.S. Congress-after forty years of willful delay. Catt had kicked up her heels and broken into a wild dance when that news arrived. The amendment then moved to the states for ratification. She knew it would be a tough slog: suffragists had to convince at least thirty-six state legislatures-three-quarters of the forty-eight states in the Union-to accept the amendment, while those opposed needed just thirteen states to vote it down and kill it. The ratification campaign proved even slower and uglier than Catt expected; she had been sure it would be over by now, but it wasn't. By midsummer 1920, thirty-five states had ratified the amendment, eight had rejected, three were refusing to consider; North Carolina and Tennessee were still up in the air, but North Carolina was a sure bet to reject. That left only Tennessee as a possible thirty-sixth state.

If the Tennessee legislature could be persuaded, pressured, cajoled, and coerced (all these techniques would be needed, Catt was certain) to ratify the amendment, suffrage would become federal law, allowing every woman, in every state, to vote in all elections. Victory at last, hallelujah, and just in time for the upcoming presidential election.

But if Tennessee did not ratify, derailing the full enfranchisement of twenty-seven million women before the fall elections, all might be lost. The momentum was stalling after several state legislatures had voted down ratification this past spring and summer. Although the "No" votes in Georgia and Louisiana had surprised no one-nearly every southern state of the old Confederacy had rejected the amendment-the loss in more moderate, mid-Atlantic Delaware was a shock. A defeat in Tennessee, which enjoyed stronger suffrage sympathies and deeper organization than the other southern states, would allow the forces against suffrage to gain strength, new legal obstacles to be thrown into the path, men to forget what women had contributed to the Great War effort, women to lose heart. That crucial sense of inevitability, the public assumption that to support woman suffrage was simply to keep in step with the march of progress, was faltering. And that infuriating question-is America really ready for women to vote, to be equal citizens?-was bubbling up again. Adding to her agitation, the newspapers were filled with the sorts of stories that gave Americans good reason to be in a sour mood.

Even after seventeen million people had been killed in the so-called Great War, the world was still aflame. The Russian Bolsheviks were invading Poland and vowing to advance into Romania and Bulgaria, Latvia, and Lithuania; the Ottoman Turks were fighting the Greeks while continuing to massacre and deport Armenians; the Irish nationalist Sinn FŽin was skirmishing with British troops. Mexico was spiraling into civil war again; factions were battling in China. The premise, trumpeted by so many posters and in so many parades, that American men had fought and died in the War to End All Wars looked to be a fake.

Even the peace seemed chimerical: the negotiations at Paris had dragged on for months, and the U.S. Senate had recently refused to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, objecting to President Wilson's plan for a League of Nations to settle international disputes. Americans wanted nothing more to do with foreign entanglements. Catt thought the league was the only good thing to come out of the horrible war; she'd written and spoken in its favor and was disgusted by the backlash against it.

The war had brought neither the peace nor the prosperity the nation had been promised. As Catt's train sped toward Nashville, streetcar workers were striking in Chicago, coal miners were stuck in long, bloody lockouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois, garment workers were threatening in New Jersey. There'd been nationwide steel mill, coal, railroad, and shipbuilding strikes in 1919-more than two thousand strikes around the country-while race riots had erupted in many cities. The postwar economic recession had now deepened into a full-blown depression. National Prohibition, which Catt had supported as a way to protect women and children from alcohol-fueled abuse, was only adding to the climate of violence, as federal agents pulled their enforcement shotguns on backwoods moonshiners and city bootleggers while mobsters jockeyed for turf with machine guns.

Anarchists were taking advantage of the turmoil, and accounts of exploding bombs in mail packages, in cars, and in offices and homes were a staple news item. The government was responding with raids, mass arrests, and deportations of suspected radicals (a pair of Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had recently been arrested in Massachusetts) authorized by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose own home had been bombed the year before. The "Palmer Raids" were executed by his ambitious young assistant J. Edgar Hoover, who'd begun keeping secret files on those who questioned or criticized the government, anyone who wasn't a "Good American." Carrie Catt was also being watched.

And every day this summer there was another article about a cheeky fellow in Boston named Charles Ponzi, who had convinced thousands of people to give him their money with promises of too-good-to-be-true investment returns: double your money in ninety days. Ponzi's clever pyramid scheme was definitely too good to be true, and he would soon be under arrest. Even the national pastime, baseball, was under a cloud of suspicion: rumors were circulating that several Chicago White Sox players had deliberately made bad plays to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for cash from gamblers. All this only added to the national dyspepsia; Americans felt as if they'd been fed too many lies, taken for chumps one too many times.

The newly minted presidential candidates had quickly picked up on the zeitgeist. Republican nominee Warren Harding was already talking about a return to "normalcy" and "America First," which Catt understood meant a retreat from progressive ideas and a slide back to comfortable, conservative policies. Democrat James Cox was carefully hedging his bets on everything. If the amendment didn't pass now, before the election, before the nation swung into an isolationist, reactionary frame of mind, it might never pass at all.

Miss Josephine Pearson was dusty from the soot flying into her trainÕs open windows and a bit stiff from the hard wooden-slat seat, but she didnÕt mind the discomforts. Pearson had received a telegram earlier that Saturday afternoon at her home in Monteagle, a hamlet perched high on TennesseeÕs Cumberland Plateau.

"Mrs. Catt arrived. Our forces are being notified to rally at once. Send orders-and come immediately." She was to take command in Nashville.

The summons thrilled her. As president of the Tennessee State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage and also head of the state division of the Southern Women's League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, Josephine was the proud leader of the Tennessee Antis. Now the fight had come home to her Volunteer State. This would be Tennessee's time of trial and, she prayed, triumph. With God's help, it would meet the challenge of beating back the scourge of woman suffrage, holding fast against the feminist epidemic sweeping the nation and now threatening her home. This was her crusade and this was her moment.

She was fifty-two years old, and all of her training-college, graduate degrees, and her years as an educator-had prepared her for this mission. She knew she was doing God's will, fulfilling a sacred vow to her beloved mother, who had understood the dangers of female suffrage, how it mocked the plan of the Creator, undermined women's purity and the noble chivalry of men, and threatened the home and the family.The Bible said a woman's place was in the home, as loving wife and mother, not in the dirty realm of politics, not in the polling booth or in the jury box, where her delicate sensibilities could be assaulted, her morals sullied and even corrupted. Her men knew what was best for her, would protect and cherish her, make laws and decisions for her benefit. Pearson felt there was no need to question the wisdom of Tennessee men or Tennessee laws.

But the threat went beyond this. Woman suffrage could upend the supremacy of the white race and the southern way of life. After the brutal disruptions of the Civil War and the upheavals of Reconstruction-when black men were allowed to vote (and some were even elected to the legislature) but former Confederate soldiers were considered traitors and stripped of their voting rights-the southern states had finally achieved a degree of equilibrium, in terms of restoring racial and political relations, the Pearson family believed. Jim Crow laws kept blacks in their place. But if a federal amendment mandated suffrage for all women, that would mean black women, too. Then Washington could demand that black men be allowed to vote, and that was totally unacceptable.

Barely a week before Mother had died in the summer of 1915, in the library of their house on the Methodist Assembly grounds in Monteagle (Father was a retired Methodist minister), Amanda Pearson had grasped Josephine's hand and implored: "Daughter, when I'm gone-if the Susan B. Anthony Amendment issue reaches Tennessee-promise me, you will take up the opposition, in My Memory!" Josephine bent to kiss her mother's brow, to impress the vow upon her forehead, and answered: "Yes, God helping, I'll keep the faith, Mother!"

So when the telegram arrived late Saturday afternoon, it was with a sense of holy purpose that Josephine Pearson quickly packed her travel case, walked from her house to the Monteagle depot, and bought a one-way ticket for the late train to Nashville.

Even before Josephine made the vow to her mother, she had come to the conclusion that suffrage was a dangerous idea; she arrived at this judgment by what she considered empirical and scholarly investigation, as befitted a woman with higher education and intellectual accomplishments. Early in her career she served as a high school principal and went on to teach English and history at Nashville College for Young Ladies and Winthrop State Normal College for Women in South Carolina. In 1909, she assumed the position of dean and chair of philosophy at Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, at a time when Missourians were debating a woman suffrage measure.

She found she often fell into argument with her colleagues and students about woman suffrage and was frequently the sole naysayer at the faculty table. She began to feel isolated, shunned for her resistance against the popular political tide. She came to resent her faculty colleagues who snubbed her and used their positions to coerce their impressionable students with their terrible suffrage ideas. During semester breaks, Josephine undertook her own version of field research to determine whether women in those few western states where females already had the right to vote, such as Wyoming, were really better off for having the franchise. She collected her own data and conducted interviews and came to the conclusion that suffrage had exposed women to the filth of politics without improving their lives at all. She began to give lectures to antisuffrage audiences and found herself hailed as an Anti leader in the state.

Her academic career in Missouri was cut short in the spring of 1914 by the call to come home to care for her ailing mother, and she returned to Monteagle to nurse her mother and aged father. From her sickbed, Mother continued to write her diatribes against the evils of whiskey and suffrage, and after her death, honoring the vow, Josephine continued the work. She sat at her desk, writing deep into the night, sending her missives to the newspapers in Nashville and Memphis and Chattanooga. The publisher of the Chattanooga Times, Adolph Ochs, was especially welcoming to her antisuffrage proclamations; Ochs's editorial pages, in both his Chattanooga paper and its sister publication, The New York Times, were firmly in her Anti camp. Pearson's dedication was recognized and she was eventually tapped to become president of the Tennessee antisuffragists. And now, like the Confederate generals whose brave exploits had been extolled in her family's parlor, whose names and deeds she knew by heart, she would stand in defense of the South.
“Weiss renders the conflict so suspensefully that it is easy to see why Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television has already bought the rights to the book. The book grippingly recounts the twists and reversals that took place in the weeks leading up to the suffrage victory, but it is even more thrilling in its presentation of ideas—both those of the suffragists and those of the people who opposed them…The Woman’s Hour animates the past so fully that its facts feel anything but fated.”—Casey Cep, The New Yorker

“At the heart of democracy lies the ballot box, and Elaine Weiss’s unforgettable book tells the story of the female leaders who—in the face of towering economic, racial, and political opposition—fought for and won American women's right to vote. Unfolding over six weeks in the summer of 1920, The Woman’s Hour is both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for everyone, young and old, male and female, in these perilous times. So much could have gone wrong, but these American women would not take no for an answer: their triumph is our legacy to guard and emulate.”—Hillary Rodham Clinton

“Stirring, definitive, and engrossing….Weiss brings a lucid, lively, journalistic tone to the story…The Woman's Hour is compulsory reading.”—NPR.org

“Weiss is a clear and genial guide with an ear for telling language … She also shows a superb sense of detail, and it’s the deliciousness of her details that suggests certain individuals warrant entire novels of their own… Weiss’s thoroughness is one of the book’s great strengths. So vividly had she depicted events that by the climactic vote (spoiler alert: The amendment was ratified!), I got goose bumps.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

"With a skill reminiscent of Robert Caro, [Weiss] turns the potentially dry stuff of legislative give-and-take into a drama of courage and cowardice."The Wall Street Journal

“A genteel but bare-knuckled political thriller…the account reads like a reality show, impossible to predict…Weiss’ narrative is energetic and buoyant even at the most critical moments.”Ms. Magazine

“A nonfiction political thriller…Weiss zeroes in on the final campaign of the suffrage movement.”—Bustle.com
 
“Riveting… Weiss provides a multidimensional account of the political crusade… The result is a vivid work of American history.” The National Book Review

“Anyone interested in the history of our country’s ongoing fight to put its founding values into practice—as well as those seeking the roots of current political fault lines—would be well-served by picking up Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour. By focusing in on the final battle in the war to win women the right to vote, told from the point of view of its foot soldiers, Weiss humanizes both the women working in favor of the amendment and those working against it, exposing all their convictions, tactics, and flaws. She never shies away from the complicating issue of race; the frequent conflict and occasional sabotage that occurred between women’s suffrage activists and the leaders of the nascent civil rights movement make for some of the most fascinating material in the book.”—Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures
 

“Even the most informed feminists will learn a thing or two.”HelloGiggles
 
“[A] lively history.”Newsday
 
“This timely exploration of the history of American gender politics reverberates during the present debate over female equality in all aspects of life and reminds us of how long and complex that struggle has been.”Knoxville News Sentinel
 
“An intriguing, timely read. Ripe for book club discussion.”South Coast Today
 
“[An] important tale…Weiss’ reportage…enables her to add splashes of color [and] wonderful dimension.”USA Today
 
“A page-turner…the story here is told in all its ugliness.”New York Journal of Books
 
"This well-researched and well-documented history reveals how prosuffragists sometimes compromised racial equality to win white women’s enfranchisement, and that, although the 19th Amendment was ratified, there exists to this day an ongoing battle to effect universal, unrestricted suffrage."—Library Journal

“Weiss does a wonderful job of laying out the background of the American women’s suffrage movement….A lively slice of history filled with political drama, Weiss’s book captures a watershed moment for American women.”—Book Page

“Remarkably entertaining ... a timely examination of a shining moment in the ongoing fight to achieve a more perfect union.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred and Boxed Review

“Imaginatively conceived and vividly written, The Woman’s Hour gives  us a stirring history of women's long journey to suffrage and to political influence. Making bold connection with race and class,  Weiss’s splendid book is as much needed today as it was in 1940 when Eleanor Roosevelt noted that men hate women with power.  As every victory since the Civil War and Reconstruction faces the wrecker,  The Woman’s Hour is an inspiration in the continuing struggles for suffrage, and for race and gender justice, and for democracy.—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor Roosevelt


Praise for Fruits of Victory

"Weiss's excellent work of cross-disciplinary scholarship offers readers a unique look at how WWI changed society."
—Booklist

"Weiss effectively chronicles the birth of the WLA movement and the dedicated women behind it. Recommended for both scholarly readers and interested history buffs."
—Library Journal
© Nina Subin
Elaine Weiss is a journalist and author whose magazine feature writing has been recognized with prizes from the Society of Professional Journalists, and her byline has appeared in many national publications, as well as in reports for National Public Radio. Elaine's book about the woman suffrage movement, The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, has earned glowing reviews from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and NPR, among others, and she has presented talks about the book and the woman suffrage movement across the country. Elaine lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, and they have two grown children. When not working at her desk, she can be found paddling her kayak on the Chesapeake Bay. And she votes in every election. View titles by Elaine Weiss

About

"Both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for every reader"--Hillary Rodham Clinton

Soon to Be a Major Television Event

The nail-biting climax of one of the greatest political battles in American history: the ratification of the constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote.

"With a skill reminiscent of Robert Caro, [Weiss] turns the potentially dry stuff of legislative give-and-take into a drama of courage and cowardice."--The Wall Street Journal

"Weiss is a clear and genial guide with an ear for telling language ... She also shows a superb sense of detail, and it's the deliciousness of her details that suggests certain individuals warrant entire novels of their own... Weiss's thoroughness is one of the book's great strengths. So vividly had she depicted events that by the climactic vote (spoiler alert: The amendment was ratified!), I got goose bumps."--Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

Nashville, August 1920. Thirty-five states have ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state is needed. It all comes down to Tennessee, the moment of truth for the suffragists, after a seven-decade crusade. The opposing forces include politicians with careers at stake, liquor companies, railroad magnates, and a lot of racists who don't want black women voting. And then there are the "Antis"--women who oppose their own enfranchisement, fearing suffrage will bring about the moral collapse of the nation. They all converge in a boiling hot summer for a vicious face-off replete with dirty tricks, betrayals and bribes, bigotry, Jack Daniel's, and the Bible.

Following a handful of remarkable women who led their respective forces into battle, along with appearances by Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Frederick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Woman's Hour is an inspiring story of activists winning their own freedom in one of the last campaigns forged in the shadow of the Civil War, and the beginning of the great twentieth-century battles for civil rights.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

...

To Nashville

Carrie Chapman Catt had spent a long night, day, and early evening on trains clattering over a thousand miles of track from New York City to Nashville. In the hours she wasn't reading field reports and legal documents, rimless eyeglasses perched on her nose, she read the newspapers and indulged in the guilty pleasure of a detective novel.

By the time the train pulled into Nashville in the dusky twilight, it was hard to make out the copper-and-bronze statue of the messenger god Mercury perched atop the Union Station tower, greeting travelers to the bustling capital city. Minerva, the warrior goddess, might have been a more fitting figure for the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. Anthony's anointed heir, the supreme commander of its great suffrage army, the woman they called "the Chief." Carrie Catt had been summoned to lead her troops into the fray one last time. At least she dearly hoped this might be the last time.

She'd already devoted half of her life to the Cause, three decades of constant work and travel. Her hair was silver and wavy, and she wore it short and brushed close, parted in the center, easy to groom on the run. Her face, once angular and strikingly handsome, was fleshier now. Her heavy eyelids drooped a bit, and the line of her jaw had softened, but she retained the same sly, thin-lipped smile, piercing blue eyes, and arched eyebrows that made her look either surprised, amused, or annoyed depending upon how she deployed them. She was definitely not amused this evening; she was worried, and she wasn't sure she could take the strain much longer.

It was Catt's job-more precisely, her life's mission-to guide American women to the promised land of political freedom, securing for them the most basic right of democracy, the vote. For more than seventy years, since that first audacious meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848, generations of her suffrage sisters had faced public disdain, humiliation, rotten eggs, violent opposition, and prison as they petitioned, campaigned, lobbied, marched, and pleaded for their simple rights as citizens. Now the promise of the franchise, so long delayed, was within sight; the political emancipation of half of the United States' citizens was at stake. And here, of all places, where she'd never imagined it possible, in the South, in Nashville.Tennessee could become the elusive thirty-sixth state to ratify the federal woman suffrage amendment. Or it could end the quest in failure.

The Tennessee legislature would soon be called into special session to vote on ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, popularly called "the Susan B. Anthony Amendment," one simple sentence stating that a citizen's right to vote could not be denied on account of sex. Nothing revolutionary, to Carrie Catt's mind. It was really just a clarification, an essential correction, of the Founding Fathers' damned shortsightedness.

Just over a year earlier, in June 1919, the amendment had finally been pushed through both houses of the U.S. Congress-after forty years of willful delay. Catt had kicked up her heels and broken into a wild dance when that news arrived. The amendment then moved to the states for ratification. She knew it would be a tough slog: suffragists had to convince at least thirty-six state legislatures-three-quarters of the forty-eight states in the Union-to accept the amendment, while those opposed needed just thirteen states to vote it down and kill it. The ratification campaign proved even slower and uglier than Catt expected; she had been sure it would be over by now, but it wasn't. By midsummer 1920, thirty-five states had ratified the amendment, eight had rejected, three were refusing to consider; North Carolina and Tennessee were still up in the air, but North Carolina was a sure bet to reject. That left only Tennessee as a possible thirty-sixth state.

If the Tennessee legislature could be persuaded, pressured, cajoled, and coerced (all these techniques would be needed, Catt was certain) to ratify the amendment, suffrage would become federal law, allowing every woman, in every state, to vote in all elections. Victory at last, hallelujah, and just in time for the upcoming presidential election.

But if Tennessee did not ratify, derailing the full enfranchisement of twenty-seven million women before the fall elections, all might be lost. The momentum was stalling after several state legislatures had voted down ratification this past spring and summer. Although the "No" votes in Georgia and Louisiana had surprised no one-nearly every southern state of the old Confederacy had rejected the amendment-the loss in more moderate, mid-Atlantic Delaware was a shock. A defeat in Tennessee, which enjoyed stronger suffrage sympathies and deeper organization than the other southern states, would allow the forces against suffrage to gain strength, new legal obstacles to be thrown into the path, men to forget what women had contributed to the Great War effort, women to lose heart. That crucial sense of inevitability, the public assumption that to support woman suffrage was simply to keep in step with the march of progress, was faltering. And that infuriating question-is America really ready for women to vote, to be equal citizens?-was bubbling up again. Adding to her agitation, the newspapers were filled with the sorts of stories that gave Americans good reason to be in a sour mood.

Even after seventeen million people had been killed in the so-called Great War, the world was still aflame. The Russian Bolsheviks were invading Poland and vowing to advance into Romania and Bulgaria, Latvia, and Lithuania; the Ottoman Turks were fighting the Greeks while continuing to massacre and deport Armenians; the Irish nationalist Sinn FŽin was skirmishing with British troops. Mexico was spiraling into civil war again; factions were battling in China. The premise, trumpeted by so many posters and in so many parades, that American men had fought and died in the War to End All Wars looked to be a fake.

Even the peace seemed chimerical: the negotiations at Paris had dragged on for months, and the U.S. Senate had recently refused to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, objecting to President Wilson's plan for a League of Nations to settle international disputes. Americans wanted nothing more to do with foreign entanglements. Catt thought the league was the only good thing to come out of the horrible war; she'd written and spoken in its favor and was disgusted by the backlash against it.

The war had brought neither the peace nor the prosperity the nation had been promised. As Catt's train sped toward Nashville, streetcar workers were striking in Chicago, coal miners were stuck in long, bloody lockouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois, garment workers were threatening in New Jersey. There'd been nationwide steel mill, coal, railroad, and shipbuilding strikes in 1919-more than two thousand strikes around the country-while race riots had erupted in many cities. The postwar economic recession had now deepened into a full-blown depression. National Prohibition, which Catt had supported as a way to protect women and children from alcohol-fueled abuse, was only adding to the climate of violence, as federal agents pulled their enforcement shotguns on backwoods moonshiners and city bootleggers while mobsters jockeyed for turf with machine guns.

Anarchists were taking advantage of the turmoil, and accounts of exploding bombs in mail packages, in cars, and in offices and homes were a staple news item. The government was responding with raids, mass arrests, and deportations of suspected radicals (a pair of Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had recently been arrested in Massachusetts) authorized by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose own home had been bombed the year before. The "Palmer Raids" were executed by his ambitious young assistant J. Edgar Hoover, who'd begun keeping secret files on those who questioned or criticized the government, anyone who wasn't a "Good American." Carrie Catt was also being watched.

And every day this summer there was another article about a cheeky fellow in Boston named Charles Ponzi, who had convinced thousands of people to give him their money with promises of too-good-to-be-true investment returns: double your money in ninety days. Ponzi's clever pyramid scheme was definitely too good to be true, and he would soon be under arrest. Even the national pastime, baseball, was under a cloud of suspicion: rumors were circulating that several Chicago White Sox players had deliberately made bad plays to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for cash from gamblers. All this only added to the national dyspepsia; Americans felt as if they'd been fed too many lies, taken for chumps one too many times.

The newly minted presidential candidates had quickly picked up on the zeitgeist. Republican nominee Warren Harding was already talking about a return to "normalcy" and "America First," which Catt understood meant a retreat from progressive ideas and a slide back to comfortable, conservative policies. Democrat James Cox was carefully hedging his bets on everything. If the amendment didn't pass now, before the election, before the nation swung into an isolationist, reactionary frame of mind, it might never pass at all.

Miss Josephine Pearson was dusty from the soot flying into her trainÕs open windows and a bit stiff from the hard wooden-slat seat, but she didnÕt mind the discomforts. Pearson had received a telegram earlier that Saturday afternoon at her home in Monteagle, a hamlet perched high on TennesseeÕs Cumberland Plateau.

"Mrs. Catt arrived. Our forces are being notified to rally at once. Send orders-and come immediately." She was to take command in Nashville.

The summons thrilled her. As president of the Tennessee State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage and also head of the state division of the Southern Women's League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, Josephine was the proud leader of the Tennessee Antis. Now the fight had come home to her Volunteer State. This would be Tennessee's time of trial and, she prayed, triumph. With God's help, it would meet the challenge of beating back the scourge of woman suffrage, holding fast against the feminist epidemic sweeping the nation and now threatening her home. This was her crusade and this was her moment.

She was fifty-two years old, and all of her training-college, graduate degrees, and her years as an educator-had prepared her for this mission. She knew she was doing God's will, fulfilling a sacred vow to her beloved mother, who had understood the dangers of female suffrage, how it mocked the plan of the Creator, undermined women's purity and the noble chivalry of men, and threatened the home and the family.The Bible said a woman's place was in the home, as loving wife and mother, not in the dirty realm of politics, not in the polling booth or in the jury box, where her delicate sensibilities could be assaulted, her morals sullied and even corrupted. Her men knew what was best for her, would protect and cherish her, make laws and decisions for her benefit. Pearson felt there was no need to question the wisdom of Tennessee men or Tennessee laws.

But the threat went beyond this. Woman suffrage could upend the supremacy of the white race and the southern way of life. After the brutal disruptions of the Civil War and the upheavals of Reconstruction-when black men were allowed to vote (and some were even elected to the legislature) but former Confederate soldiers were considered traitors and stripped of their voting rights-the southern states had finally achieved a degree of equilibrium, in terms of restoring racial and political relations, the Pearson family believed. Jim Crow laws kept blacks in their place. But if a federal amendment mandated suffrage for all women, that would mean black women, too. Then Washington could demand that black men be allowed to vote, and that was totally unacceptable.

Barely a week before Mother had died in the summer of 1915, in the library of their house on the Methodist Assembly grounds in Monteagle (Father was a retired Methodist minister), Amanda Pearson had grasped Josephine's hand and implored: "Daughter, when I'm gone-if the Susan B. Anthony Amendment issue reaches Tennessee-promise me, you will take up the opposition, in My Memory!" Josephine bent to kiss her mother's brow, to impress the vow upon her forehead, and answered: "Yes, God helping, I'll keep the faith, Mother!"

So when the telegram arrived late Saturday afternoon, it was with a sense of holy purpose that Josephine Pearson quickly packed her travel case, walked from her house to the Monteagle depot, and bought a one-way ticket for the late train to Nashville.

Even before Josephine made the vow to her mother, she had come to the conclusion that suffrage was a dangerous idea; she arrived at this judgment by what she considered empirical and scholarly investigation, as befitted a woman with higher education and intellectual accomplishments. Early in her career she served as a high school principal and went on to teach English and history at Nashville College for Young Ladies and Winthrop State Normal College for Women in South Carolina. In 1909, she assumed the position of dean and chair of philosophy at Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, at a time when Missourians were debating a woman suffrage measure.

She found she often fell into argument with her colleagues and students about woman suffrage and was frequently the sole naysayer at the faculty table. She began to feel isolated, shunned for her resistance against the popular political tide. She came to resent her faculty colleagues who snubbed her and used their positions to coerce their impressionable students with their terrible suffrage ideas. During semester breaks, Josephine undertook her own version of field research to determine whether women in those few western states where females already had the right to vote, such as Wyoming, were really better off for having the franchise. She collected her own data and conducted interviews and came to the conclusion that suffrage had exposed women to the filth of politics without improving their lives at all. She began to give lectures to antisuffrage audiences and found herself hailed as an Anti leader in the state.

Her academic career in Missouri was cut short in the spring of 1914 by the call to come home to care for her ailing mother, and she returned to Monteagle to nurse her mother and aged father. From her sickbed, Mother continued to write her diatribes against the evils of whiskey and suffrage, and after her death, honoring the vow, Josephine continued the work. She sat at her desk, writing deep into the night, sending her missives to the newspapers in Nashville and Memphis and Chattanooga. The publisher of the Chattanooga Times, Adolph Ochs, was especially welcoming to her antisuffrage proclamations; Ochs's editorial pages, in both his Chattanooga paper and its sister publication, The New York Times, were firmly in her Anti camp. Pearson's dedication was recognized and she was eventually tapped to become president of the Tennessee antisuffragists. And now, like the Confederate generals whose brave exploits had been extolled in her family's parlor, whose names and deeds she knew by heart, she would stand in defense of the South.

Praise

“Weiss renders the conflict so suspensefully that it is easy to see why Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television has already bought the rights to the book. The book grippingly recounts the twists and reversals that took place in the weeks leading up to the suffrage victory, but it is even more thrilling in its presentation of ideas—both those of the suffragists and those of the people who opposed them…The Woman’s Hour animates the past so fully that its facts feel anything but fated.”—Casey Cep, The New Yorker

“At the heart of democracy lies the ballot box, and Elaine Weiss’s unforgettable book tells the story of the female leaders who—in the face of towering economic, racial, and political opposition—fought for and won American women's right to vote. Unfolding over six weeks in the summer of 1920, The Woman’s Hour is both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for everyone, young and old, male and female, in these perilous times. So much could have gone wrong, but these American women would not take no for an answer: their triumph is our legacy to guard and emulate.”—Hillary Rodham Clinton

“Stirring, definitive, and engrossing….Weiss brings a lucid, lively, journalistic tone to the story…The Woman's Hour is compulsory reading.”—NPR.org

“Weiss is a clear and genial guide with an ear for telling language … She also shows a superb sense of detail, and it’s the deliciousness of her details that suggests certain individuals warrant entire novels of their own… Weiss’s thoroughness is one of the book’s great strengths. So vividly had she depicted events that by the climactic vote (spoiler alert: The amendment was ratified!), I got goose bumps.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

"With a skill reminiscent of Robert Caro, [Weiss] turns the potentially dry stuff of legislative give-and-take into a drama of courage and cowardice."The Wall Street Journal

“A genteel but bare-knuckled political thriller…the account reads like a reality show, impossible to predict…Weiss’ narrative is energetic and buoyant even at the most critical moments.”Ms. Magazine

“A nonfiction political thriller…Weiss zeroes in on the final campaign of the suffrage movement.”—Bustle.com
 
“Riveting… Weiss provides a multidimensional account of the political crusade… The result is a vivid work of American history.” The National Book Review

“Anyone interested in the history of our country’s ongoing fight to put its founding values into practice—as well as those seeking the roots of current political fault lines—would be well-served by picking up Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour. By focusing in on the final battle in the war to win women the right to vote, told from the point of view of its foot soldiers, Weiss humanizes both the women working in favor of the amendment and those working against it, exposing all their convictions, tactics, and flaws. She never shies away from the complicating issue of race; the frequent conflict and occasional sabotage that occurred between women’s suffrage activists and the leaders of the nascent civil rights movement make for some of the most fascinating material in the book.”—Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures
 

“Even the most informed feminists will learn a thing or two.”HelloGiggles
 
“[A] lively history.”Newsday
 
“This timely exploration of the history of American gender politics reverberates during the present debate over female equality in all aspects of life and reminds us of how long and complex that struggle has been.”Knoxville News Sentinel
 
“An intriguing, timely read. Ripe for book club discussion.”South Coast Today
 
“[An] important tale…Weiss’ reportage…enables her to add splashes of color [and] wonderful dimension.”USA Today
 
“A page-turner…the story here is told in all its ugliness.”New York Journal of Books
 
"This well-researched and well-documented history reveals how prosuffragists sometimes compromised racial equality to win white women’s enfranchisement, and that, although the 19th Amendment was ratified, there exists to this day an ongoing battle to effect universal, unrestricted suffrage."—Library Journal

“Weiss does a wonderful job of laying out the background of the American women’s suffrage movement….A lively slice of history filled with political drama, Weiss’s book captures a watershed moment for American women.”—Book Page

“Remarkably entertaining ... a timely examination of a shining moment in the ongoing fight to achieve a more perfect union.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred and Boxed Review

“Imaginatively conceived and vividly written, The Woman’s Hour gives  us a stirring history of women's long journey to suffrage and to political influence. Making bold connection with race and class,  Weiss’s splendid book is as much needed today as it was in 1940 when Eleanor Roosevelt noted that men hate women with power.  As every victory since the Civil War and Reconstruction faces the wrecker,  The Woman’s Hour is an inspiration in the continuing struggles for suffrage, and for race and gender justice, and for democracy.—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor Roosevelt


Praise for Fruits of Victory

"Weiss's excellent work of cross-disciplinary scholarship offers readers a unique look at how WWI changed society."
—Booklist

"Weiss effectively chronicles the birth of the WLA movement and the dedicated women behind it. Recommended for both scholarly readers and interested history buffs."
—Library Journal

Author

© Nina Subin
Elaine Weiss is a journalist and author whose magazine feature writing has been recognized with prizes from the Society of Professional Journalists, and her byline has appeared in many national publications, as well as in reports for National Public Radio. Elaine's book about the woman suffrage movement, The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, has earned glowing reviews from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and NPR, among others, and she has presented talks about the book and the woman suffrage movement across the country. Elaine lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, and they have two grown children. When not working at her desk, she can be found paddling her kayak on the Chesapeake Bay. And she votes in every election. View titles by Elaine Weiss