The Women Who Fought For The Right To Vote

Tuesday marks 100 years of women’s suffrage. A new book from New York Times staff looks at lesser-known figures behind the 19th Amendment.

Finish The Fight book cover art
Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Finish The Fight book cover art
Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Women Who Fought For The Right To Vote

Tuesday marks 100 years of women’s suffrage. A new book from New York Times staff looks at lesser-known figures behind the 19th Amendment.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified exactly 100 years ago Tuesday, the culmination of decades of activism that finally gave women the right to vote.

While you may remember some of the women involved in the quest for women’s suffrage — names like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton — the work of many others has received far less attention.

Finish the Fight! is a new children’s book that aims to change that.

“Part of it was going back to our younger selves and thinking, ‘What do we wish we’d been taught?’” said Veronica Chambers, who wrote the book along with fellow staff members at The New York Times.

Chambers talked with Nerdette about the book, 100 years of women’s suffrage and some of her favorite, lesser-known suffragettes. Below are highlights from the conversation.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Greta Johnsen: In the 1850s, someone asked her to move seats in a streetcar.

Veronica Chambers: Yes, and she refused. It’s interesting because there are all these ripples of the things we come to know, like Rosa Parks refusing to give her seat up on a bus. That all starts 100 years beforehand. You have these really smart, well-educated women who are saying no. And sometimes it ends really poorly. And sometimes, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper says with pride, “I rode as far as I wanted to go, and then he wouldn’t take my fare,” so she threw it on the floor.

I also think what’s heartbreaking about her is she’s someone who was kind of the ultimate bookish woman, and then when she learns about a free black man who’s captured and sold into slavery, she realizes that she just can’t confine herself to the page. She has to become an activist because it’s needed and the human rights element is so large, which I think has interesting parallels to the moment we’re in.

On racism within the suffragist movement

Chambers: I think the best of suffragists. And I know some people will come for me because they want me to remember that some suffragists were super racist. And you can’t see me, but I’m Afro-Latina. I get it.

So I know how racism was so much a part of this movement, but at the same time I really can say with as much passion as I can muster that — having spent so much time reading these stories — what really unites the best of these women is that they are futurists. They don’t know that this is going to make a difference in their lives, they just know that this is what they want for all women, and that this is what they want for the country, and I think that’s pretty amazing.

What she hopes readers take away

Chambers: Just a simple reminder that our vote is so powerful that three generations of women worked for this. From Seneca Falls to 1920, women were activists on behalf of suffrage, labored for this with all of their beings. They died, their daughters became suffragists, they died, and their daughters were able to vote.

Only one woman who attended Seneca Falls (in 1848) lived to vote in 1920.

This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.