In Other Words
March of the Suffragettes: Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights by Zachary Michael Jack
Women in the United States were granted the right to vote in federal elections in 1920, after nearly 75 years of advocacy by suffrage groups. Voting rights didn’t come to women in one fell swoop, however — they won the right incrementally, state by state, by lobbying local politicians and opinion makers. New York, for instance, which passed women’s suffrage in 1917, was by no means progressive in this action: Women in Wyoming had been voting since 1869. It took the efforts of truly dedicated activists to sway the New York legislature in their favor. In March of the Suffragettes: Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights, Zachary Michael Jack recalls an all-but-forgotten two-week winter pilgrimage, made from the Bronx to Albany by intrepid true believers in the power of democracy in 1912.
Jones and her small band of pilgrims met at the subway stop at 242nd Street and Broadway, and then walked 175 miles through the Hudson River Valley to the capital city, in the snow and cold of December, giving speeches and talking with farmers and factory workers along the way. They planned to call upon the governor-elect on New Year’s Day and ask him to consider passage of women’s suffrage. Some marchers who joined Jones’ army in the beginning were pulled off the route by angry parents, while others were unable to maintain the grueling pace. Jones, whose mother was a prominent antisuffragist, was acting in direct defiance of her family’s wishes while knowingly using her societal advantages to give women of all classes, colors, and creeds a political voice. She struggled with the line between what she considered to be decorous protest and disruptive radical action, and worried about losing too much of her femininity if she became too brash in her outrage against sexism.
Journalists followed the marchers for the duration, and they were met at nearly every town by a brigade of wellwishers and police escorts. By 1912, the public was ready for equal voting rights, even if politicians were still dragging their feet. The marchers were rarely told that women shouldn’t have the right to vote — though they were surprised that most of the antisuffrage sentiment they heard came from teachers, a single woman’s profession at the time.
Jack is a former youth and bookmobile librarian, a teacher, and author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction about American history, including The Midwest Farmer’s Daughter: In Search of an American Icon (Purdue University Press, 2012) and Corn Poll: A Novel of the Iowa Caucuses (Ice Cube Press, 2015). He writes March of the
Suffragettes in a tone meant for adolescent readers, positioning Jones as a selfless but essentially humble leader among women and men — an American hero. When describing some of the outdated gender mores she encountered in her daily life, his voice is charmingly incredulous: “…There were still plenty of frankly silly things young women weren’t supposed to do in 1912. Some of these prohibitions were really quite ridiculous, including no-nos like whistling in the street, owning dogs, and riding bicycles.” Though the book is a perfect vehicle to get teenagers interested in reading about history, the complexity and density of information Jack provides, as well as his facility with humor and dramatic tension, will also hook more mature readers.