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.
Weiss presents a panoramic view of the proceedings, which are alternately juicy (accusations of libel and bribery abounded, and, in spite of Prohibition, the whiskey and bourbon were free-flowing) and procedural. Weiss also provides national and international context: World War I had ended less than two years earlier, and both the war and its aftermath had jumbled established norms of gender, race and employment ... 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 ... The Woman’s Hour offers several timely reminders: of how history-altering legislation comes about after much nitty-gritty, unglamorous fieldwork; of how tenuous the progress toward true equality under the law really is; of how social and legal changes that in retrospect seem inevitable were hardly considered such at the time (indeed, even after the 19th Amendment passed, its ratification was contested repeatedly). And yet, if nothing can be taken for granted and change rarely comes without a fight, there remains reason for optimism.
Weiss gives suffrage advocates like Catt and White their due but, like cinema villains, Pearson and the antisuffragists ('Antis') have the more dynamic and interesting roles in the story ... Weiss appropriately treats the women Antis with respect and nuance, trying to uncover their sincere and genuine views. She nonetheless demonstrates how the political activism of these women disproved so many of the assumptions upon which their opposition to suffrage equality was built. Women could lobby, organize, and play political hardball with the best of them ... Weiss, with her keen eye focused on the story’s villains, perhaps gives less attention to the variety of interests that came together to advance votes for women. Her portraits of suffrage advocates, both famous and little known, however, are detailed and balanced.
So it's bracing to read Elaine Weiss's stirring, definitive, and engrossing treatment of winning suffrage in America, The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote. Weiss brings a lucid, lively, journalistic tone to the story. Perhaps her greatest contribution is documenting the intricate, contentious element of racism that almost crippled the struggle. For that insight alone, The Woman's Hour is compulsory reading. In America, as we need to be reminded over and over, it's always about race.