Primary documents provide insight into the struggles within the women's suffrage movement in the United States up until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Historian Wagner (Sisters in Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influences on Early American Feminists, 2001, etc.) opens with a chapter about the key role of women in the Iroquois Confederacy in upstate New York before the United States became a nation. “Unlike almost every other historian,” writes Gloria Steinem in the foreword, “[Wagner] doesn’t treat this country as if it began with Columbus.” Wagner then moves on to discuss the development of the women's suffrage movement in the decades before the first national women's rights convention in 1850. Covering the years from the 1850s to 1920, the editor devotes a chapter to the events of each decade. An introduction to each chapter provides a generous amount of historical context, which brings the implications of the primary documents—some of which are included in full and others of which are excerpted—into focus. These documents include speeches at women's rights conventions and to the general public, and they reveal the striking tensions between various factions of the movement as well as their commonalities. Wagner broadens her subject to include not just discussions of women's suffrage, but also birth control, “free love,” divorce, and women's economic and social rights. The structure of the volume makes clear the protracted nature of the struggle and how many now-little-known individuals were involved in it in addition to famous figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Wagner never hesitates to point out the flaws in her subjects and the movement, notable among which is the fact that the “suffragists,” as they called themselves, were often casually or even intentionally racist, arguing that educated white women were more deserving of political power than ex-slaves.
Abundantly useful for aspiring scholars, while those with a casual interest in the subject will be struck by its surprising complexity.