Suffragette: The Battle for Equality by David Roberts with a foreword by Crystal N. Feimster, PhD, 128 pp, RL 4
Suffragette: The Battle for Equality
Foreword by Crystal Feimster, PhD
Review copy from Candlewick Press
There are so many fascinating, amazing things about Suffragette: The Battle for Equality by David Roberts, but I am going to focus on just a few for my review. But first, I must say that Roberts is an illustrator I have been enthralled by since first reading Iggy Peck, Architect in 2013. His illustrations bring the movement to life on the page and also bring balance to the format, which devotes a two page spread to each chronologically organized historical moment. It was also interesting to learn, in the introduction, that Roberts's interest in and eventual enthusiasm for suffragists and suffragettes began when he was fourteen and had to write (and illustrate!) a project and was left to choose from a dwindling pile of books on his history teacher's desk. The black and white photo on the cover of two women in prisoners uniforms caught Roberts's attention immediately. Back matter includes "A World of Suffrage," portraits and brief biographies of women around the world who fought and are fighting for equality in their home countries, as well as a bibliography.
Reading this book sent me to a search engine often to learn more about something that I learned as I read. The first of which is the use of the word suffragette versus suffragist. I'll be honest: I first heard the word suffragette as a teenager in the 80s listening to David Bowie - somehow, my public schooling had not addressed the history of votes for women. This is significant because, as I learned from Roberts, it was journalist Charles E. Hands who coined the word in as a way to distinguish between the two factions of suffragists - the militant WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) - and the more peaceful, law-abiding members of other organizations. Hands also intended this new word as an insult and a way of minimizing the movement. However, the members of the W.S.P.U. embraced the term and anticipated, correctly so, that it would catch on with the public. Thus, Americans like Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Alice Paul were suffragists. In England, the suffragettes of the W.S.P.U. were 8,000 strong, some of them resorting to violent acts (against property, not human life) to bring about change. More than 1,000 went to prison, where hundreds joined the hunger strike and were forcibly fed. A chapter in Roberts's book describing the process of force-feeding a prisoner on a hunger strike is especially disturbing, not to mention the revelation that the government only enacted this form of torture on working-class prisoners. This was discovered by Lady Constance Lytton who was seen by a doctor and released from prison early while on a hunger strike. She later disguised herself as a poor seamstress and was arrested while protesting. This time, thinking she was a "nobody," Lytton's hunger strike resulted in a force-feeding that historians believe contributed to her early death.
Another aspect of the suffragist movement that I was interested to learn about was the fact that, while the women's suffrage movement in the United States grew out of the abolitionist movement, there was still discrimination ( that caused African American women to form their own organizations. I learned from Feimster's foreword that, when Alice Paul organized the first national suffrage parade in Washington D.C. in 1913, she relegated back suffragists to the back of the parade. Ida B. Wells-Barnett refused to be segregated and marched with white suffragists at the front. In England, it was class and not race that divided the movement, with votes initially being given to only to propertied women over the age of thirty.
Finally, reading this book and learning about the amazing, brave, smart things women did to win the right to vote - and the stunning things men and women did to stop this from happening made me wonder why these stories aren't a bigger deal? Why didn't I learn more about it in school? Feimster, who is four years younger than me, writes of learning about it in college. Sure, Susan B. Anthony has her own dollar coin and many kids know her name and that she helped win the vote for women, but it doesn't seem like a big deal. Reading Roberts's book, even more than reading Gillibrand's (see below) has given me a deeper understanding of just how long the movement fought and how hard the fight was. Knowing this history, I think more young people will realize all that women, and people of color, still have to fight for when it comes to equality and equity.
With that in mind, I was surprised that there aren't as many kid's books as I would have expected about suffragists and the movement. There is one book (that I am buying and reading) that seems like it covers the history of the movement in America the way that Roberts's does for the movement in England (see below). Other than that, there are picture book biographies and stories from the movement, like Around America to Win the Vote (see below) and not much else.
Votes for Women!
American Suffragists & the Battle for the Ballot
by Winifred Conkling, author of Sylvia & Aki
Available now in hardcover and coming January, 2020 in paperback
(and review coming soon!)
Roberts's books with Andrea Beaty
Coming in November 5, 2019!
Roberts's books with other authors:
More picture books illustrated by Roberts