The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss
It’s not often that we get to brag about Tennessee’s progressive history, but in 1920 the state cast the deciding vote for the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granting all women the right to vote.
In her excellent book, The Woman’s Hour, Weiss focuses on the campaign’s last six weeks in Nashville, the epicenter of the final battle, where politicians, suffragists (“Suffs”), “Antis”, lobbyists, and reporters swarmed the capital in the August heat.
Although many men (and women) referenced biology or the bible in their opposition arguments, there were more pragmatic reasons to keep women out of the voting booth.
Most suffragettes supported Prohibition as a way to protect women and children from alcohol-fueled abuse. For the powerful whisky lobby, this was a problem. If women gained entry into politics, they might insist on enforcing the hated Eighteenth Amendment. For the duration of the legislative session, Jack Daniels liberally distributed their product and their Anti propaganda from a hospitality suite on the eight floor of the Hermitage Hotel.
Likewise, the L&N Railroad, who had bribed Tennessee legislators for years, was afraid that women would upset the established system of cronyism. The textile mills worried that reform-type women would insist on child labor laws and equal pay.
And there was race, always the elephant in the room. The Antis didn’t want black women to get the vote. In their minds, it was bad enough that black men had the vote, although Jim Crow laws had limited the actual implementation of that right.
An Anti broadside entitled BEWARE!
REMEMBER that Woman Suffrage means a reopening of the entire Negro Suffrage question; loss of State rights; and another period of reconstruction horrors, which will introduce a set of female carpet-baggers as bad as their male prototypes of the sixties.
In the end, the vote just barely passed. With a letter from his widowed mother in his pocket stating, “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt [Chief Suff],” a twenty-four-year old freshman representative from East Tennessee, Harry Burns, cast the deciding vote and promptly left the chamber through a window.
The Woman’s Hour is a fast paced “you just can’t make this stuff up” political drama, full of colorful, well-drawn characters and some eerie parallels to current sociopolitical issues.
What Other Reviewers Say
Margot Lee Shetterly, Author of Hidden Figures: “Anyone interested in the history of the ongoing fight to put our founding values into practice or in the roots of current political fault lines would be well served by picking up The Woman’s Hour.
By focusing on the movements foot soldiers, Elaine Weiss humanizes both the women working for the amendment and those working against it, exposing all their convictions, tactics, and flaws. She never shies away from the complicated issue of race; the frequent conflict 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.”
Who Wrote It
Elaine Weiss is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications as well as in reports and documentaries for the National Public Radio and Voice of America. A MacDowell Colony Fellow, she is also the author of Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War.