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July 4, 2020

Library Notes — The fight for rights/American suffragettes

By Gretchen Beilfuss Witt
Rowan Public Library

In August, the United States will celebrate the 100th year of women’s suffrage. For many alive today, the struggle for the right of women to vote seems like ancient history, but it was a long, hard fight and deserves recognition. In Rowan Public Library’s collection, a marvelous overview of the 75-year battle for enfranchisement can be found in the PBS produced DVD “One Woman, One Vote,”  Beginning in the mid-1800s, the film follows the leaders, alliances, and divisions of the men and women of the suffrage movement through to the passage of the 19th amendment.  

The early suffragists were often former abolitionists still working for the rights of all humans. “Songs of America” by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw examines and celebrates the songs of protest and patriotism created and preserved as the fledgling democracy America grew. A fascinating journey through time, beginning with the American Revolution, “Songs of America” includes a chapter on the marching and rallying songs of the suffragette as well as narrative explaining the Progressive movement and its inclusion of women’s suffrage, urbanization of American, the fight against Jim Crow laws and the excesses of the Gilded Age. Meacham and McGraw’s effort demonstrates how music and song play an important role in the historic fabric of the United States.

Deborah Kops in “Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights” reviews the life of Alice Paul, a young Quaker woman, born in 1908 and instrumental in the struggle for women’s rights. Not only was Paul active in the suffragist movement of the early 1900s, she continued to advocate for women’s rights through the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 and later the Equal Rights Amendment. Clearly written, this enjoyable narrative about Alice Paul encompasses the movement for equal rights for women that was integral to her life. Well-educated, a graduate of Swarthmore, Alice worked initially among the immigrants as a social worker in New York City later obtaining a master’s degree in political science from University of Pennsylvania. Winning a scholarship to Woodbrooke, a Quaker institute that encouraged social activism, Alice traveled to England and after hearing Christabel Pankhurst speak discovered her future in the battle for women’s rights.

“The Hello Girls” by Elizabeth Cobbs explores the role of the first women soldiers in the U.S. Army. General “Black Jack” Pershing personally requested these experienced telephone operators in order to keep his communications with troops and allies open. Despite their service on the front line of WWI, these women of the Signal Corps were denied any benefits or recognition after the war. However, their service ushered in the enfranchisement of women, blazed a trail for women in the Armed Services and helped to transform American Society.

This diverse collection and other like material available at the library can inform and illuminate the present, pick them up at Rowan Public Library.

Gretchen Beilfuss Witt is supervisor of the Edith M. Clark History Room at the Rowan Public Library.

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