They forever changed America: Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, Alice Paul. At their revolution's start in the 1840s, a woman's right to speak in public was questioned. By its conclusion in 1920, the victory in woman's suffrage had also encompassed the most fundamental rights of citizenship: the right to control wages, hold property, to contract, to sue, to testify in court. Their struggle was confrontational (women were the first to picket the White House for a political cause) and violent (women were arrested, jailed, and force-fed in prisons). And like every revolutionary before them, their struggle was personal. Books have extolled their accomplishments and noted their sacrifices. For the first time, the eminent historian Jean H. Baker tellingly interweaves these women's private lives with their public achievements. As only a biographer can, Baker presents these revolutionary women in three dimensions, humanized, and marvelously approachable. Stone the martyr and missionary; Stanton the antireligious individualist; Anthony the activist lesbian; Willard the organizational mastermind; Paul the militant feminist.
This lively, succinct overview of the five activists most responsible for securing the vote for American women is a welcome, intellectually sophisticated addition to feminist history. Baker, a respected historian at Goucher College, presents five interconnected critical biographical essays on Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard and Alice Paul. Baker's effortless blending of personal narrative with political and historical analysis-a technique she perfected in her groundbreaking 1987 Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography-works to great effect, not only vividly brings these women to life but explicating the complicated social and political framework in which they existed. For instance, she traces Frances Willard's evangelical feminist style and interests to her devotion to her mother and to her father's calling to be a minister during the Second Great Awakening. Baker knows a good story, such as the highly respectable Stanton's friendship with notorious free-lover Victoria Woodhull; Baker highlights both the story's drama and historical significance. While she doesn't ignore complex themes-such as the thorny relationship suffrage organizing had to the enfranchisement of African-American men-she often downplays them. Still, Baker has written a popular (yet scrupulously footnoted), smart and compelling book. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Hill and Wang
August 21, 2006
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