Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

History of Woman Suffrage, a chronological narrative with documents, comprises six volumes averaging one thousand pages apiece. The broad purpose of this massive work was to lend intellectual and moral support to feminists, and their male allies, in their struggles between 1881 and 1920 to extend the franchise to women. Universal white manhood suffrage had all but been accomplished by the mid-1840’s, an area in which Americans then led the world. In 1870, as a part of post-Civil War Reconstruction, ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denial of the vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; thus the franchise was extended to African American males, including those who had been freed from slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

The great discontinuity in such extensions of the franchise in the extension of democracy was the general preclusion of voting by women. Despite the fact that in some localities a few women had participated in voting during Colonial days and a few subsequently enjoyed voting rights during the first half of the nineteenth century, though still only locally, these were insignificant exceptions to the prevailing practices of a male-dominated society. Whatever the opinions the majority of women may have held regarding the value of the franchise to them during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—and these are unknown—many thousands of educated and articulate women certainly considered their denial of the vote a rank injustice. Abigail Adams had reminded her husband, John, of that fact...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

By the close of the twentieth century, History of Woman Suffrage was judged by male and feminist historians alike to be a major source for the study of nineteenth century women’s rights movements, as well as an important source for the study of the lives and views of Stanton and Anthony. Accordingly, it was reprinted in 1970 by Source Book Press, while Mari Jo and Paul Buhle condensed and edited The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from the Classic Work of Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, published by the University of Illinois Press in 1978. Though the original work was never intended for general readers, later perceptions of its importance fully justified the efforts of Stanton and Anthony in launching this multivolume work and overseeing much of it to fruition. Judged within the context of its times—that is, the years from 1881 to 1922—History of Woman Suffrage may rank as the principal, if not the sole, scholarly contribution to literature concerning the struggle for women’s rights in the United States.

History of Woman Suffrage is regarded as a monument in particular to the steadfastness and perseverance of Stanton and Anthony. In a social and political environment that was almost continuously hostile to their aspirations and objectives, they not only invested the six volumes with their emotional and intellectual substance but also drew heavily upon their own financial resources to bring them to publication. It was a feat accomplished amid extremely busy individual, familial, and public lives.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Banner, Lois W. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980. A useful portrait of Stanton intended for nonspecialist readers. Banner focuses on Stanton’s radicalism in the context of her times and the interplay of her conservative origins and radical bent upon her personality. Contains brief chapter essays on sources and an inadequate index.

Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony: A Biography of a Singular Feminist. New York: New York University Press, 1988. An excellent, enjoyable study which concentrates, as might be expected, on Anthony’s character development, rather than on History of Woman Suffrage. Offers many splendid photographs, chapter notes, and an extensive bibliography.

Dubois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978. A clearly written, scholarly study of the independent women’s movement in the United States from Seneca Falls (1848) through the early years of Reconstruction (1869). Excellent for its examination of the political complexities and divisions over suffrage and other women’s rights. A bibliography and an index are included.

Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. A vigorous, scholarly study that treats the full range of Stanton’s feminist activities and places her powerful advocacy of woman suffrage in an appropriate context. An important work since Stanton was widely recognized as the principal leader and chief advocate of women’s rights during the nineteenth century. Excellent photographs, appendices, notes to pages, and a valuable index are provided.

Kraditor, Aileen. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1899-1920. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. An outstanding study which carefully traces its subject and important personalities through the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. When supplemented by Ellen Carol Dubois’ study (above) and by perusal of History of Woman Suffrage itself, Kraditor’s work completes a continuous history of woman suffrage. Contains a bibliography and an index.