This Book On Women's Suffrage Is For Kids — But Every Feminist Needs To Read It

by E. Ce Miller

From young girls clasping Hillary Clinton figurines at political rallies, to HRC fielding debate questions with Donald Trump leering over her shoulder, to over 440,000 women standing arm-to-arm in the streets of Washington D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017, some of the most iconic images of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and subsequent resistance feature women. Women in solidarity pants suits, women in pink knit pussy hats, women decorating Susan B. Anthony’s headstone with “I Voted” stickers on election day. No matter where you looked, women were front and center throughout the 2016 election, ready to witness the ultimate manifestation of the dream activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Susan B. Anthony, and others set in motion over 170 years earlier.

But the history of women’s still-unequal participation in democratic governments is a complicated one, even more than many Americans realize. It’s a history that barely makes the pages of mainstream U.S. history textbooks and is rarely ever — at least, based on my own educational background — taught in all its full, nuanced truth.

Now one book, Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right to Vote by Susan Zimet, written for young readers and out from Viking on Jan. 16, seeks to fill in the gaps that your average American history class left out. Committed to “repopulat[ing] history with important women usually left out of textbook summaries” and “frankly acknowledging the internal struggles and political differences among the women”, Roses and Radicals takes readers through the 72-year journey of America’s fight for women’s right to vote, and features sections like "Know Your Radicals” — which introduces readers to key but under-recognized activists — alongside unfiltered facts about the movement’s successes, flaws, and failures.

Roses and Radicals by Susan Zimet, $13, Amazon

Zimet herself is the president of 2020: Project Women, a nonprofit corporation founded to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 2020. She’s also an activist who has dedicated much of her life to environmental justice and women’s rights. Roses and Radicals is the book, Zimet writes, that she wishes she had when she was a student. It’s a book that young feminists — and really, feminists and readers of all ages — will be glad to have now.

But, as Roses and Radicals — written specifically for middle grade readers aged 10 and older — demonstrates, there is a lot about the Women’s Rights Movement, and the women’s suffrage movements, that everyday Americans simply don't know. Here are 10 things that might surprise you about women’s suffrage:


America’s First Feminist Predates The United States Itself

Considered “America’s first feminist,” Anne Hutchinson was actually an Englishwoman who traveled to the United States as a colonist in 1634. Working as a midwife, Hutchinson began hosting women’s-only meetings — which she was ultimately arrested for, on the charge of “disturbing the peace of the church,” and forced to leave Boston for the then-Dutch colony in what is now New York.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton Was Inspired By The Worlds Anti-Slavery Convention

While attending the Worlds Anti-Slavery Convention with her husband in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was inspired (and infuriated) by the convention’s exclusion of women from speaking or otherwise participating in the events. In fact, the entire first day of the convention was dedicated to discussing and voting on the segregation of women from the convention’s main floor. Biographers, as Stanton herself did, often attribute Stanton’s activism to this event.


The Women’s Rights Movement Has Always Struggled With Intersectionality

Despite the fact that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was originally inspired by the abolitionist movement, and both the abolitionists and early feminists once worked closely together, the Women’s Rights Movement has always struggled with intersectionality — including racism exhibited by Stanton herself. She was not in support of African American men getting the right to vote before women, and did not include African American women in the larger suffrage movement. Former-slave Sojourner Truth was the first African American woman to speak publicly about the fact that women’s rights needed to include ALL women — not just white women.


Quaker Women Were Essential To The Movement

Many key figures in that early Women’s Rights Movement — including Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony — were Quakers. Not only were Quakers involved in many reform movements in the United States, they were also key to the Women’s Rights Movement specifically because of their belief in spiritual equality between men and women.


Frederick Douglass Played A Central Role As Well

You might be surprised to learn that Elizabeth Cady Stanton only added suffrage to the Declaration of Sentiments after it was drafted, and was actually asked by the other early activists to remove it entirely. In fact, if it weren’t for Frederick Douglass — who encouraged Stanton to leave voting rights in the document — suffrage may not have been a part of the Declaration of Sentiments at all.


Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination May Have Set Women’s Suffrage Back Decades

When the Women’s Rights Movement was interrupted by the Civil War, many activists decided to put their cause on hold and work, often as nurses, for the Union army. Some sources claim that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony even met with President Abraham Lincoln to forge a deal stating that if they temporarily dropped the fight for suffrage so America could focus on the war, Lincoln would support the women’s right to vote when the war was over. Then, Lincoln was assassinated just five days after the Civil War ended.


The First Woman To Run For U.S. President Preceded Women’s Suffrage

Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for U.S. president, in 1872. Considered somewhat eccentric at the time Woodhull ran as the nominee of the Equal Rights Party — which ultimately went on to nominate Frederick Douglass instead.


“Sexism” Wasn’t Even Part Of The American Lexicon Until The 1960s

The assumption that successful societies arranged themselves around the superiority of men over women was so ingrained in American life that when the early suffrage movement began, there wasn’t even a word for discrimination based on gender. “Sexism” wouldn’t become a widely-used part of the American lexicon until nearly 100 years later.


Wyoming Was The First State To Give Women The Right To Vote

Wyoming gave white American women the right to vote in 1869, when it was still just a U.S. territory — followed by Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. The reason, however, wasn’t especially progressive. Due the quality of frontier life, few women were inclined to travel west, making it difficult for men to start families. These then-territories gave women the right to vote in order to entice them to move west, believing that the regions were so remote and sparsely populated that women’s votes wouldn’t have a significant impact on elections anyway.


Only One Woman Who Attended The First Women's Rights Convention Was Alive To See The 19th Amendment Pass

Charlotte Woodward was just 19-years-old when she joined activists Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and approximately 300 others at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. She was also one of the youngest attendees to sign the Declaration of Sentiments and the only surviving signatory to witness the passing of the 19th Amendment, 72 years later. However, due to illness, she was never actually able to cast a vote in a U.S. election.