Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote

By Susan Ware


However much the white women of the country need suffrage…colored women need it more.”

– Mary  Church Terrell


When Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919, and 36 states ratified it by August 1920, women’s right to vote was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.  This year, 2020, marks the 100th year of that historic occasion that dramatically changed the lives of women then and for future generations.  Never again can the claim be made that American women were given the vote.  Women fought, sacrificed, and suffered for that cause.  Women won the vote.


For far too long, the history of how American women won the right to vote has been told as the tale of a few iconic leaders, all white and native-born.  But Susan Ware uncovered a much broader and more diverse story waiting to be told.  Why They Marched is a tribute to the many women who worked tirelessly in communities across the nation, out of the spotlight, protesting, petitioning, and insisting on their right to full citizenship.


Ware tells her story through the lives of nineteen activists, most of whom have long been overlooked.  We meet Mary Church Terrell, a multilingual African American woman; Rose Schneiderman, a labor activist building coalitions on New York’s Lower East Side; Claiborne Catlin, who toured the Massachusetts countryside on horseback to drum up support for the cause; Emmeline Well, a Mormon woman in a polygamous marriage determined to make her voice heard; Virginia’s own Mary Johnston, an aristocratic novelist bucking the southern ruling elite; and others who helped harness a groundswell of popular support.  We also see the many places where the suffrage movement unfolded – in church parlors, meeting rooms, and the halls of Congress, but also on college campuses and even at the top of Mount Rainier.  Few corners of the United States were untouched by suffrage activism.


Ware’s deeply moving stories provide a fresh account of one of the most significant moments of political mobilization in American history.  The dramatic, often joyous experiences of these women resonate powerfully today, as a new generation of young women demands to be heard.


A celebrated feminist historian and biographer, Susan Ware is the author of American Women’s History: A Very Short Introduction and Letter to the World: Seven Women who Shaped the American Century, among other books.  She is Honorary Women’s Suffrage Centennial Historian at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and General Editor of American National Biography.

2020 March Book Commentary