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.
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.
In The Woman’s Hour, a gripping account of those fraught and steamy days in Nashville, Elaine Weiss delivers political history at its best ... she writes with verve and color that captures the feverish excitement of a moment when, whatever the outcome, every woman and man packed into Tennessee’s imposing statehouse knew that history was about to be made. With a skill reminiscent of Robert Caro, she turns the potentially dry stuff of legislative give-and-take into a drama of courage and cowardice, showing the pain of compromise and the power of substantive debate in an age when rhetoric was still an art and political discourse still aimed to persuade ... Too long neglected by historians, the campaigners who swarmed Tennessee’s statehouse have been splendidly served by Ms. Weiss’s engrossing narrative.