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Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women's Right to Vote

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New York City's elite women who turned a feminist cause into a fashionable revolution In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names--Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like--carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day beca New York City's elite women who turned a feminist cause into a fashionable revolution In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names--Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like--carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day because of the extravagance of their costume balls and the opulence of the French couture clothes, and they leveraged their social celebrity for political power, turning women's right to vote into a fashionable cause. Although they were dismissed by critics as bored socialites "trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris," these gilded suffragists were at the epicenter of the great reforms known collectively as the Progressive Era. From championing education for women, to pursuing careers, and advocating for the end of marriage, these women were engaged with the swirl of change that swept through the streets of New York City. Johanna Neuman restores these women to their rightful place in the story of women's suffrage. Understanding the need for popular approval for any social change, these socialites used their wealth, power, social connections and style to excite mainstream interest and to diffuse resistance to the cause. In the end, as Neuman says, when change was in the air, these women helped push women's suffrage over the finish line.


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New York City's elite women who turned a feminist cause into a fashionable revolution In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names--Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like--carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day beca New York City's elite women who turned a feminist cause into a fashionable revolution In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names--Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like--carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day because of the extravagance of their costume balls and the opulence of the French couture clothes, and they leveraged their social celebrity for political power, turning women's right to vote into a fashionable cause. Although they were dismissed by critics as bored socialites "trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris," these gilded suffragists were at the epicenter of the great reforms known collectively as the Progressive Era. From championing education for women, to pursuing careers, and advocating for the end of marriage, these women were engaged with the swirl of change that swept through the streets of New York City. Johanna Neuman restores these women to their rightful place in the story of women's suffrage. Understanding the need for popular approval for any social change, these socialites used their wealth, power, social connections and style to excite mainstream interest and to diffuse resistance to the cause. In the end, as Neuman says, when change was in the air, these women helped push women's suffrage over the finish line.

30 review for Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women's Right to Vote

  1. 4 out of 5

    BAM the enigma

    A big thank you to Johanna Neuman, Washington Mews Press, and Netgalley for the copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. In the days when New York circulated over 20 daily newspapers and birth control was an arrestable offense, women named Astor, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt along with the likes of Katherine Hepburn's mother bonded in the fight to win the women's vote. In the shadow of the days of the fin de siecle women were viewed as emotional, weak vessels with the home as their dom A big thank you to Johanna Neuman, Washington Mews Press, and Netgalley for the copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. In the days when New York circulated over 20 daily newspapers and birth control was an arrestable offense, women named Astor, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt along with the likes of Katherine Hepburn's mother bonded in the fight to win the women's vote. In the shadow of the days of the fin de siecle women were viewed as emotional, weak vessels with the home as their domain. But as a certain class made the climb to celebrity inspiration drew the together to create The Colony Club on Madison Avenue, a social society with its own building housing a running track, a restaurant, bedrooms, and holding enrichment programs for its members, which was capped at 700. As these ladies became more civically-minded their talks leaned toward the suffrage movement. These women reminded me of the mother in Mary Poppins. A lovely, engaging personality who couldn't do more for society could not be found than one of these ladies. So respected were they that they won the respect of thousands of men who also fought for the cause. Neumann explores history with an unclouded eye in this book. These women were not perfect and often made headlines, but they certainly weren't the violent types of Great Britain. The rights of all females were based upon the movement of yesteryear. Neuman does an excellent job informing the reader how indebted we are to these brave souls.

  2. 4 out of 5

    =^.^= Janet

    I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher - New York City's elite women who turned a feminist cause into a fashionable revolution In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names--Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like--carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day because of the I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher - New York City's elite women who turned a feminist cause into a fashionable revolution In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names--Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like--carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day because of the extravagance of their costume balls and the opulence of the French couture clothes, and they leveraged their social celebrity for political power, turning women's right to vote into a fashionable cause. Although they were dismissed by critics as bored socialites "trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris," these gilded suffragists were at the epicenter of the great reforms known collectively as the Progressive Era. From championing education for women, to pursuing careers, and advocating for the end of marriage, these women were engaged with the swirl of change that swept through the streets of New York City. Johanna Neuman restores these women to their rightful place in the story of women's suffrage. Understanding the need for popular approval for any social change, these socialites used their wealth, power, social connections and style to excite mainstream interest and to diffuse resistance to the cause. In the end, as Neuman says, when change was in the air, these women helped push women's suffrage over the finish line. I am pressed to name any NYC socialite that does so much for change these days --- Instagram feeds maybe. "Real" housewives? Not at all. The descendants of the families in this book - Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney et al are still well-known names but they have been replaced by socialites who throw balls and collectively spend more on their gown/hair/makeup/etc. then the balls' final tally of "monies raised". Here is an idea, ladies - sell tickets to stay at home and donate the ticket price and all the frou-frou directly to the charity! Back to the book - ahem. These women are why we can vote today. Why The US had a woman run for president. Why we have a voice in everything from our private lives to political office. We should revere them and learn more about them by reading this book! I had no idea that these women were involved in getting the US the voting rights of women. We were a little earlier than the 19th amendment allowing women to vote in the USA in 1920 in some parts of Canada ... Provincially, women were given the vote in 1916 in the four western provinces, in 1917 in Ontario, in 1918 in Nova Scotia, in 1919 in New Brunswick, in 1922 in Prince Edward Island, and in 1940 in Quebec. 1940!!!!!!!!! Anyone who is interesting in history would enjoy this book - I certainly did so. (and if your daughter ever says that you are not being fair .. give her this book and let her see what things were like 100 years ago.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nichole

    I need to be honest... this book is not generally something that I would read. I tend to find that a lot of history/non-fiction type books can get a bit tedious and boring. That said, this was not the case with Gilded Suffragists. I found the detail to be incredibly fascinating. I am sure Johanna Neuman's delivery has everything to do with that. That said, Johanna Neuman has definitely done her homework in Gilded Suffragists. The incredible amount of historical detail really places the reader bac I need to be honest... this book is not generally something that I would read. I tend to find that a lot of history/non-fiction type books can get a bit tedious and boring. That said, this was not the case with Gilded Suffragists. I found the detail to be incredibly fascinating. I am sure Johanna Neuman's delivery has everything to do with that. That said, Johanna Neuman has definitely done her homework in Gilded Suffragists. The incredible amount of historical detail really places the reader back into the early twentieth century alongside these courageous - and exceedingly extravagant - women. You really learn to appreciate the commitment of these early socialites who took their celebrity and power to make lasting changes in their communities, even when faced with dismissal and ridicule. You also realize that social status was resourcefully used as a tool to drive these positive changes. From helping immigrants and the poor, improving education, and all the way to voting rights of women, these ladies brought together in their elite clubs fought against their stereotypes to make a real difference. This title is incredibly relevant today's politics. I've heard so many people criticize that celebrities have no place in politics and social issues. Gilded Suffragists demonstrates exactly why people who have social power not only have the right to speak up but further validates our necessity for today's celebrities to use their voices. We need them. They can be louder than the rest of us. They have access to far more resources. I can easily see Gilded Suffragists becoming part of curriculum, so we (students) may have a better - broader - understanding of the history of women's rights to vote. It is much to easy too gloss over the topic as is and subsequently take the women's right to vote for granted. To be frank, I can't recall learning much if anything about the fight for women to be able to vote. Perhaps, too, the notoriety and familiarity of these women, even if just by surname, may connect with young people today. Better yet, maybe more celebrities could be driven to find inspiration in Tiffany, Astor, Whitney, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and the many others who proved what social status can drive. I am giving Gilded Suffragists, 4 courageous stars! Thank you NetGalley and NYU Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara (The Bibliophage)

    Today’s Women’s Marchers owe a lot to Johanna Neuman’s Gilded Suffragists. There’s no doubt that high society at the turn of the twentieth century was the precursor of today’s activist celebrities. I just wish Neuman’s book had been more compelling. The women’s suffrage and enfranchisement movements weren’t moving forward very quickly until the women of means started to participate. These were women who understood how to manage the media of time. They also had the backing—if only financially—of w Today’s Women’s Marchers owe a lot to Johanna Neuman’s Gilded Suffragists. There’s no doubt that high society at the turn of the twentieth century was the precursor of today’s activist celebrities. I just wish Neuman’s book had been more compelling. The women’s suffrage and enfranchisement movements weren’t moving forward very quickly until the women of means started to participate. These were women who understood how to manage the media of time. They also had the backing—if only financially—of wealthy husbands and families. Their social lives gave them access to both local and national politicians as well. Despite those advantages, the suffragists didn’t unite together behind one banner. They created various separate committees and organizations. Then the groups wasted energy fighting with each other instead of just against the patriarchy. I was incredibly frustrated by the factions, which stalled and derailed the process. Yet somehow, they managed to pull it off. Women became fully voting U.S. citizens. To me, the story as Neuman tells it isn’t that they accomplished their goal in spite of male opposition. It is that they accomplished their goal in spite of themselves. The book’s tone and structure frustrated me. Most of the book felt like a recitation of facts, with only a minor bit of sociological interpretation in the last several pages. Neuman chose not to include much supposed dialogue among the suffragists, gilded or otherwise. I understand the author’s desire to stay strictly historical, but this can be done artfully as well as accurately. For example, the way Holly Tucker did in City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris. Neuman built the story chronologically. And yet, I often felt that the same facts were introduced as new in multiple places. I never quite connected with any of the women involved, despite the information I learned about them. And the various factions only added to my frustration. I wish the book’s organization had focused on fewer women, or had followed committee lines instead of timelines. Perhaps another style would have made it seem less like a doctoral dissertation. Nevertheless, I was glad to learn about the participation of these women in a cause that has defined the way American women contribute to politics. Kudos to Neuman for bringing them to the forefront. Thanks to NetGalley, New York University Press, and the author for a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    4.5 gilded and glittering stars! "The men will see that the women will laugh last, and he who laughs last laughs best, you know." Yet again, I put off reading a book (as I sometimes do, for no apparent reason whatsoever), only to have finished it and LOVED it! What was I thinking putting this one off for so long?!? I feel so ashamed! Neuman clearly knew what she was talking about when she wrote Gilded Suffragists; it is so incredibly thorough and well-researched - traits I always adore seeing in bo 4.5 gilded and glittering stars! "The men will see that the women will laugh last, and he who laughs last laughs best, you know." Yet again, I put off reading a book (as I sometimes do, for no apparent reason whatsoever), only to have finished it and LOVED it! What was I thinking putting this one off for so long?!? I feel so ashamed! Neuman clearly knew what she was talking about when she wrote Gilded Suffragists; it is so incredibly thorough and well-researched - traits I always adore seeing in books that I read. It was astounding how much work she put into it. I'm totally in awe! The concept behind this book is what caught my attention and had me requesting it - the idea that New York City's most elite women (Neuman credits around 200) used their keen senses of fashion and large bank accounts to attract public attention to the suffrage movement is incredible! These wealthy women were not regarded by men as equal citizens, so, they reasoned, they were exempt from following the laws in the same way that men were, even if that meant using drastic measures every now and then...like shouting on street corners and from atop soap boxes, or picketing outside the front gates of the White House, all of which were incredibly unladylike things to be caught doing in the early 1900s. Interestingly, American women fought hard to keep themselves separate from their English counterparts - despite the fact that both groups were fighting for the exact same thing - for fear that American men would be put off and feel emasculated (gasp!) if their women adopted the same extreme tactics that British women were using to draw attention to suffrage (including assaulting members of Parliament, cutting telephone wires, and treating golf courses with acid). The majority of American women felt that their "Deeds, not words" slogan would be sufficient in winning them the right to vote. Whether this is actually true or whether it was their eventual escalation to picketing, imprisonment, and hunger strikes that won them the vote, win it they did. These 200-ish women manipulated the press into featuring the suffrage movement in some of the country's most prominent newspapers. In fact, these very women are credited with starting the paparazzi-style reporting that is still going strong today: "At a time when print was ascending, these elite women of an earlier generation rode the crest of a new phenomenon called celebrity journalism." These gilded suffragists understood all too well that for the right price, the public would learn what it needed to about their work as suffrage advocates...and none of what it didn't. They used their lofty positions atop the social ladder to bring attention to a cause that spoke to them on a very deep level. And most importantly, they learned to play the game - and win the vote - by adopting a few male-approved tactics; charm, social connections, money, and, when necessary, a bit of arm-twisting. After reading Gilded Suffragists, I am much more familiar with suffrage and what it meant for these women to stand on the right side of a very wrong time in history. Marriages dissolved, children grew resentful, friendships broke apart, and reputations were smeared, but these women fought valiantly for a cause that was undeniably important to them. They wanted to ensure that they would leave the world a more tolerant place than when they had entered it. I am upset that the issues this book addresses are not taught in history classes today. If children were familiar with the suffrage movement and just how important it was, they might not take such things for granted because these women (whatever their motives for winning the vote might have been) were brilliant, brave, and remarkable, to say the least, and it's a damn shame that this part of history is not common knowledge today. This book makes me proud to be a woman, and I'd like to think that I would have picked up a banner or handful of pamphlets and marched right alongside these women had I been alive during that era. Neuman truly knocked it out of the park when she wrote Gilded Suffragists. Take a chance on this one...you won't be disappointed! *A copy of this book was provided by NetGalley, the publisher, and the author in exchange for an honest review.*

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Subtitled, The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women's Right to Vote, Johanna Neuman's book credits the forgotten women of the upper class who joined the movement for suffrage. Just as today the media loves wealth and beauty, a hundred years ago the media loved the elite denizens of New York, helping to establish the power of the 'celebrity endorsement.' When socialites decided to form their own club, become involved with the betterment of the immigrant and the poor, and support women's right t Subtitled, The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women's Right to Vote, Johanna Neuman's book credits the forgotten women of the upper class who joined the movement for suffrage. Just as today the media loves wealth and beauty, a hundred years ago the media loved the elite denizens of New York, helping to establish the power of the 'celebrity endorsement.' When socialites decided to form their own club, become involved with the betterment of the immigrant and the poor, and support women's right to self-government, they provided much-needed funding and a public voice from within the establishment. They thought it important to be well dressed and feminine to counter the stereotype of suffragettes as masculine or hysterical. Some took to soap boxes while others held elegant soirees. The women publicly paraded in white with banners, an act of nonconformity that brought ridicule and and angry threats. Eventually, enlightened men supported their wives, marching with them, while others' disapproving husbands sat grimly on the sidelines. WWI had a huge impact on the movement. The Suffragettes were criticized for drawing the president's attention away from the war, and it was then that they became targets of police brutality and inhumane treatment in prison. I was moved by the story of Jeanette Rankin, a pacifist Montana Republican and the first women elected to the U.S. Congress. When President Wilson asked Congress to approve entering WWI, Rankin was under huge pressure. Should she stand by her pacifist beliefs? Or, representing all women and their political future, must she prove that women could rise to the occasion and support war when circumstances required it? When Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony published their History of Woman Suffrage they omitted or distorted the history of the movement, emphasizing their own roles as founders. Over the years, the Gilded Suffragettes were relegated to the sidelines of history and then were forgotten. Neuman locates the movement in the history of the early 20th c., a time of great social change, including the establishment of the federal income tax, laws overseeing business, and population shifts from rural to urban areas. I finished this book August 18; it was on August 18, 1920, that the 19th Amendment was passed. In some ways, women have come a long way, and yet our rights for self-determination and political and equality are under threat. A hundred years ago society's darlings, dressed in couture fashions and big hats, stood up for social equality. I would like to know, are today's women of the 1% as willing or interested in standing up for political equality? Or is it only the new class of elites from the entertainment business that have the courage? I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    There’s been much emphasis in the UK this year (2018) about the fight for women’s suffrage, so this excellent book is a timely reminder that American women too were fighting for the right to vote. Here the author concentrates on the richest and most privileged women in New York, of whom many espoused the cause and put their considerable fortunes plus their influence and position into fighting for it. They were sometimes accused of merely taking up the cudgels because it was the fashionable thing There’s been much emphasis in the UK this year (2018) about the fight for women’s suffrage, so this excellent book is a timely reminder that American women too were fighting for the right to vote. Here the author concentrates on the richest and most privileged women in New York, of whom many espoused the cause and put their considerable fortunes plus their influence and position into fighting for it. They were sometimes accused of merely taking up the cudgels because it was the fashionable thing to do and a distraction from their otherwise vacuous lives. But these were capable, intelligent women and there seems little doubt that they believed in right of women to vote. As well as looking at the individual women themselves – many of them household names even today, Astor, Vanderbilt, Tiffany and so on – Neuman examines the political and social background against which they operated, which makes the book an extremely informative, entertaining and comprehensive piece of social history. Highly recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pearl

    When I thought of the suffragists to whom we women owe the right to vote, I thought first of all of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and then of those who combined their ardor for a woman’s right to vote with other causes they were equally ardent about, such as Lucretia Mott, Jeanette Rankin, the Grimke sisters, Harriet Tubman, and others. But I never thought of anyone named Astor, Belmont, Harriman, Tiffany, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Whitney, Havermeyer with Mary When I thought of the suffragists to whom we women owe the right to vote, I thought first of all of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and then of those who combined their ardor for a woman’s right to vote with other causes they were equally ardent about, such as Lucretia Mott, Jeanette Rankin, the Grimke sisters, Harriet Tubman, and others. But I never thought of anyone named Astor, Belmont, Harriman, Tiffany, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Whitney, Havermeyer with Mary Cassett, or MacKay. Johanna Neuman, historian, award-winning journalist, and Scholar in Residence at American University in Washington D.C., tells the rest of the story in her new book about the New York socialites who also fought for women’s right to vote. Women’s suffrage, as a cause, gained prominence in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention. In the aftermath of the convention a lot of energy and some success emanated but not the Big Success. The movement, according to Neuman, was losing steam by the close of the 19th century; but the super wealthy women of New York City reignited the cause by using their social status and their wealth to make new converts to the suffrage movement and to make suffrage more acceptable. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen without a struggle. It caused rifts in some families. It earned these socialites disapproval and ostracism from the smug and the haughty in their social class; nevertheless these fashionable and wealthy ladies persisted. Some participated in marches but most didn’t; some went to jail but most didn’t; all of them made significant financial contributions to the cause and generated publicity for the cause that the suffragists had been unable to achieve on their own. They were often criticized and sometimes shunned by the movement suffragists. Some viewed them as bored socialites who weren’t really committed to woman’s suffrage. Some were jealous of the publicity they got; but many embraced them – or at least embraced their money and their beautiful fundraisers at their fashionable clubs and private residences. These gilded suffragists were the first celebrities to endorse a political cause. Up until this time it had been unthinkable that a “real lady” would get involved in politics. All of this and more are covered in Neuman’s well researched book. She tells interesting stories of the individual women, describes the rivalries for power and tactics within the movement, and explains why the women in the U.S. suffrage movement wanted to be called suffragists, not suffragettes. Neuman doesn’t discount the work of the well known suffragists. Nor does she claim more power for these New York socialites than they deserve. She does claim that they helped push woman’s suffrage over the finish line and that they deserve to be known and recognized, not air brushed out of history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    PDO

    I had read this book recently and found it so well written and had such an important message that we decided to add this book to our book club for discussion. I was so fortunate to be able to actually meet the author at her reading at the NY Public Library. Her knowledge, enthusiasm & passion for the topic of women's rights as well as her engaging presence really resonated with me and made the read even better! Ms. Neuman offers a meticulous and interesting examination of this challenging period I had read this book recently and found it so well written and had such an important message that we decided to add this book to our book club for discussion. I was so fortunate to be able to actually meet the author at her reading at the NY Public Library. Her knowledge, enthusiasm & passion for the topic of women's rights as well as her engaging presence really resonated with me and made the read even better! Ms. Neuman offers a meticulous and interesting examination of this challenging period in America. It behooves us all to be reminded of the struggle and dedication of a few that led to the opportunity for all to vote. Thank you, Ms. Neuman.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Matthew J.

    There's a lot of interesting information in this book. And it's a look at people who are often ignored in the hindsight of the Women's Suffrage movement. That said, reading the book was like trying to follow a particularly excited Robin Williams, ad libbing jokes and leaping about a stage. Several times I felt like I was getting mental whiplash as a paragraph jumped from 1910 to 1890 to 1917 to 1908. Names fly fast and furious, while I never got a real sense of who most people were, why they did There's a lot of interesting information in this book. And it's a look at people who are often ignored in the hindsight of the Women's Suffrage movement. That said, reading the book was like trying to follow a particularly excited Robin Williams, ad libbing jokes and leaping about a stage. Several times I felt like I was getting mental whiplash as a paragraph jumped from 1910 to 1890 to 1917 to 1908. Names fly fast and furious, while I never got a real sense of who most people were, why they did what they did, what it meant, etc. "Which generation is this?" "Wait, she was the sister of whom?" "Why wasn't this person liked, again?" "Was this one militant, or diplomatic?" I can't help but think a major restructuring was needed. Perhaps a more defined chronology? I could have used some kind of visualization of social and political relationships, like a web or a Venn diagram or something. Again, there's a lot of good stuff in here. But it was challenging to extract, and I don't think I got as much as I'd have liked.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Cook

    Most of the history on the suffrage movement deals with the early efforts of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton and their compatriots. A generation latter many of the wives and daughters of the robber baron industrialists picked up the torch and were relentless in their pursuit of full nationwide suffrage. Women named Astor, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt became radicalized not only for suffrage but social reform. They took up the torch light by the previous generation and took to the street Most of the history on the suffrage movement deals with the early efforts of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton and their compatriots. A generation latter many of the wives and daughters of the robber baron industrialists picked up the torch and were relentless in their pursuit of full nationwide suffrage. Women named Astor, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt became radicalized not only for suffrage but social reform. They took up the torch light by the previous generation and took to the street and the drawing rooms of high society and turned the tide. Great short read. Highly recommended. "The men will see that the women will laugh last, and he who laughs last laughs best, you know."

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Plowright

    In the superb 2004 HBO film ‘Iron Jawed Angels’, Molly Parker plays Mrs Emily Leighton, the wife of Senator Tom Leighton. When the film begins Emily, in line with the doctrine of the separate spheres, regards politics as her husband’s realm and contents herself with supporting him and bringing up their two daughters. Gradually, though, she takes more of an interest in the suffragist cause. At first her support is financial but gradually she becomes more radical and more active, even joining thos In the superb 2004 HBO film ‘Iron Jawed Angels’, Molly Parker plays Mrs Emily Leighton, the wife of Senator Tom Leighton. When the film begins Emily, in line with the doctrine of the separate spheres, regards politics as her husband’s realm and contents herself with supporting him and bringing up their two daughters. Gradually, though, she takes more of an interest in the suffragist cause. At first her support is financial but gradually she becomes more radical and more active, even joining those women who picketed Wilson’s White House and as a consequence is imprisoned, and goes on hunger strike. The character of Emily Leighton is fictional but Johanna Neuman’s book ‘Gilded Suffragists’, subtitled ‘The New York Socialites who fought for women’s right to vote’ tells the actual story of those upper class women who lent their support, albeit in much less dramatic ways than Emily, to the campaign for votes for women, which eventually triumphed when women gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1920, as a result of the 19th Amendment. According to Neuman it was over 200 socialites, including “women named Astor, Belmont, Harriman, Mackay, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, and Whitney” who made a decisive contribution to that constitutional change when, in 1908, they reanimated the suffrage cause by exploiting their social status to ‘de-toxify’ and normalize it. This celebrity endorsement was, it is claimed, so potent - ultimately helping to “push women’s suffrage over the finish line” - because these women had the ear of the media and because their glamour undermined the anti-suffragist taunt that women who demanded their rights were somehow ‘unfeminine’ and threatened the emasculation of men. Neuman is an award-winning journalist turned historian and ‘Gilded Suffragists’, her second book, represents a revised version of her doctoral dissertation. It is a great pity that the Colony Club, which was founded in 1907 as the first exclusive women’s club in New York City, and which plays a central part in Neuman’s account, refused her access to its archives. She nevertheless makes a strong case for her claim that the gilded suffragists in general and Vira Boarman Whitehouse and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont in particular, made a key financial and cultural contribution to gaining women the vote only to be “methodically airbrushed from the metanarrative of women’s suffrage”. Neuman writes with great verve and her general analysis, notably of the relationship between Carrie Chapman Catt’s NAWSA and Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party, is astute. Above all, she deserves praise for shedding light on a topic which has hitherto been neglected. Having said all that, a nagging doubt remains. If History is written by the winners and the gilded suffragists played such a decisive role in winning women the vote, then why did they need rescuing from oblivion by Neuman? For such supposed mistresses of media manipulation they seem ultimately to have missed a rather major trick.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Hulser

    Original look at some forgotten powerhouses of the suffrage movement at the turn of the century. The Mink Brigade and allies -- Alma Vanderbilt Belmont, Anne Morgan, Harriet Burton Laidlaw, Daisy Harriman, Vera Whitehouse, Katherine Duer McKay, Katherine Houghton Hepburn, Lousine Havemeyer and many more -- knew how to get attention, wield social power and rebrand the frowsy women's movement as a modern, fashionable, cutting edge affiliation that was perfectly compatible with ravishing gowns and Original look at some forgotten powerhouses of the suffrage movement at the turn of the century. The Mink Brigade and allies -- Alma Vanderbilt Belmont, Anne Morgan, Harriet Burton Laidlaw, Daisy Harriman, Vera Whitehouse, Katherine Duer McKay, Katherine Houghton Hepburn, Lousine Havemeyer and many more -- knew how to get attention, wield social power and rebrand the frowsy women's movement as a modern, fashionable, cutting edge affiliation that was perfectly compatible with ravishing gowns and decorated mansions. The wealthy had perhaps less to lose in breaching the boundaries of decorum, but in this account they seem to knowingly deploy transgression as something nourishing for the society press, and by extension for the movements. Stents, spectacles, street corner speeches and pageants were just a few of the interventions in public space that helped propel the suffrage movement into center stage. One of my favorite moments was when they took a motorboat and megaphone and patrolles to shoreline to speak to, or at, jeering dock workers. In Staten Island Mary Morgan Brewer gave a suffrage lecture in a boxing ring prior to the match. At the Polo Grounds where the NY Giants played, the female ushers wore yellow dandelions and proclaimed "Make a home run for suffrage" in the 1915 NY State vote (which they at first lost). These activists astutely used New York City for its qualities as a commercial media capital, rather than the center of political power. And they even sort of backed the Women's Trade Union League. These wealthy suffragists made -- or attempted at least -- some alliances with the working class women of the time who were toiling factories and pioneering the model of independent women without necessarily subscribing to the vote as a means. Emma Goldman thought votes for women were a distraction from the real class struggle, a capitulation to things as they are, rather than her preferred utopian anarchist future of full equality across the realms of work, home, society and politics. Neuman realizes that physical appearance can be a potent tool in defusing male resistance. She also analyzes the strategic use of the celebrity that these society matrons had more often used to cement their social status. They deployed sarcasm: such as a "Are Women People?" essay or a parade banner that read "All this is a natural consequence of teaching girls to read." The annals of American suffrage have obscured or buried these ladies with their problematic wealth and standing, as if only middle or working class heroines ought to be allotted credit. Definitely a worthwhile revision of the suffrage canon.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    More like a 3.5. I thought this was an interesting history. I think what struck me the most was how resonant this book still seemed. In ways that I wish had changed, but largely haven't, it's worth understanding the ways in which rich white, for lack of a better term, celebrities, get involved with a cause can help normalize it. Two parts that really stuck out to me: "There are no kings in American society...only queens," wrote Elise Clews Parsons. The 'onerous and endless business' of social cal More like a 3.5. I thought this was an interesting history. I think what struck me the most was how resonant this book still seemed. In ways that I wish had changed, but largely haven't, it's worth understanding the ways in which rich white, for lack of a better term, celebrities, get involved with a cause can help normalize it. Two parts that really stuck out to me: "There are no kings in American society...only queens," wrote Elise Clews Parsons. The 'onerous and endless business' of social calling, the ordeal of climbing into and staying atop society, required a 'kind of self-devotion which verges on asceticism." (p. 79). Tell me that isn't still true. "For a brief moment in early twentieth-century America, when change was in the air, they helped push women's suffrage over the finish line. Familiarity is the ballast of social change. Wives and daughters of the most powerful men in Gotham were well-known figures on the public stage, reassuring in their very presence. As hostesses of extravagant parties and managers of massive estates, they had learned the skills of managing a press corps hungry for controversy. This dexterity they now exported to the suffrage movement, harnessing their own social influence to attract new believers to the cause. If they did not win suffrage outright, they did something very critical to the success of those who did. They have the movement currency, making it less threatening to men and more appealing to women, more acceptable to a mainstream public." (p. 155). It's worth noting of course, that this was largely suffrage for and by white women. The women's suffrage movement was, as she hints at, also racist and classist. This book, more than most, lays that bare in the best possible way, because moving forward we must make sure women's movements are intersectional, but use the lessons of, perhaps, glamour and celebrity, and work toward social change and justice for all.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mindy

    I enjoyed reading this, literally 100 years after the 19th amendment was passed. At the heart of the fight for women's suffrage is the idea of citizenship: the right to vote is essential for full citizenship and not affording women the vote could mean nothing other than that they weren't actually citizens. We would be wise to remember this when we talk about voting today: if you are a citizen, you have the right to vote, full stop. Those making it difficult to vote are on the wrong side of histo I enjoyed reading this, literally 100 years after the 19th amendment was passed. At the heart of the fight for women's suffrage is the idea of citizenship: the right to vote is essential for full citizenship and not affording women the vote could mean nothing other than that they weren't actually citizens. We would be wise to remember this when we talk about voting today: if you are a citizen, you have the right to vote, full stop. Those making it difficult to vote are on the wrong side of history, full stop. I was also reminded of how fraught political movements are with different views and approaches, inner fractures, silenced voices, and forgotten heroes. And, as with so much of what I'm reading lately, that we're all just human beings doing the best we can: we are neither all good nor all bad. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, for instance, not only was an incredible financial and social supporter of suffrage, but she was one of the few leaders to cross racial lines and work with women of color in the movement. At the same time, she was domineering publicly and apparently mistreated her staff privately, neither of which were good things. Should the latter erase the former? I hope not--otherwise history may have played out quite differently! I see a lot of parallels to today's #metoo movement: who gets to speak for women, what is the message, what is the method, etc., and the role of celebrities and the wealthy. I like to believe in a world where there's room for all to have a voice and where we can work together towards a common goal. I suppose the suffrage movement is an example of this happening successfully, eventually. As always, there are a lot of important lessons to take from history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wanda Adams

    I was in a bookstore recently, volunteering to wrap gifts as part of a charitable event. I saw this book and bought it because I'm in the throes of writing a novel about a character I created who's a "wealthy suffragist from the south" who would definitely fit in with these women, although she is not, as I created her, anywhere nearly in the wealth class of the Vanderbilts and Asters. I bought this book as a curiosity; I couldn't put it down. Several other books I've read on similar subjects hav I was in a bookstore recently, volunteering to wrap gifts as part of a charitable event. I saw this book and bought it because I'm in the throes of writing a novel about a character I created who's a "wealthy suffragist from the south" who would definitely fit in with these women, although she is not, as I created her, anywhere nearly in the wealth class of the Vanderbilts and Asters. I bought this book as a curiosity; I couldn't put it down. Several other books I've read on similar subjects have been dry and boring. Johanna Neuman's writing makes the information flow in an interesting, easy-to-understand way. The little-known facts that these women, whose husbands were the uber-wealthy of their time, worked on behalf of women's suffrage and didn't allow their wealth to hinder their efforts, but instead used their societal positions to their advantage, and knew how to navigate society's networks without losing their position in the world, make great reading. What began for me as a curiosity turned into a wonderful reading experience, with several incidents that solidify some of the incidents I've created in my own fictional character. This is one of those hidden historical gems, presenting history about women whose stories did not make it into our history books, and who helped New York State's women get the vote 100 years ago--before the country's 14th amendment was passed. Completely recommended reading.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    Gilded Suffragists describes the effects of the society women who joined the women's suffrage movement. This was very well-researched, citing many ignored contemporary articles. It also provided many nice moments, such as the anecdote about the woman reciprocating the dinner at the club line to the people who did it to her. While well researched and occasionally touching, this book would go off on long tangents, like on the methods of the movement and the men in the movement, which were interest Gilded Suffragists describes the effects of the society women who joined the women's suffrage movement. This was very well-researched, citing many ignored contemporary articles. It also provided many nice moments, such as the anecdote about the woman reciprocating the dinner at the club line to the people who did it to her. While well researched and occasionally touching, this book would go off on long tangents, like on the methods of the movement and the men in the movement, which were interesting but not the focus, making the book seem disorganised. Additionally, at certain points, the book turned into lists of salons hosted by society women, which could have been mentioned together rather than expounding on everyone of them. A digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kaley

    Fascinating information that I've never heard before, which bothers me. This book has inspired me to try to do a little more digging on some of the women mentioned. On a more frivolous note, love the gilded cover and the beautiful pictures. (But maybe these suffragists teach us that appearances aren't so frivolous after all?) The book itself could have done with better/clearer organization and structure. Jumping from the 1890s to 1917 to 1909 all in one paragraph - on many separate occasions - wa Fascinating information that I've never heard before, which bothers me. This book has inspired me to try to do a little more digging on some of the women mentioned. On a more frivolous note, love the gilded cover and the beautiful pictures. (But maybe these suffragists teach us that appearances aren't so frivolous after all?) The book itself could have done with better/clearer organization and structure. Jumping from the 1890s to 1917 to 1909 all in one paragraph - on many separate occasions - was a bit much to process. Maybe a chronological timeline would have helped. Also, I wish the notes had been footnotes instead of all gathered in the back of the book - nobody wants to flip to the back three times every paragraph to see the sources and explanations!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Homerun2

    3.75 Fascinating anecdotal account of the overlooked support for women's suffrage by a daunting number of wealthy socialites in the early 20th century. Sadly, the movement was as partisan and factionalized as any political group and many of the "gilded" women were erased when history was written. The individual stories are often dramatic and note worthy and this account sheds some light on a lesser known time and some significant participants. I was given an ARC via Net Galley in return for my ho 3.75 Fascinating anecdotal account of the overlooked support for women's suffrage by a daunting number of wealthy socialites in the early 20th century. Sadly, the movement was as partisan and factionalized as any political group and many of the "gilded" women were erased when history was written. The individual stories are often dramatic and note worthy and this account sheds some light on a lesser known time and some significant participants. I was given an ARC via Net Galley in return for my honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Nonfiction, history that is a very entertaining read, similar to historical fiction. So interesting and you'll find yourself marveling at details of that "gilded" age - the personalities, the politics, the parties and fashion and the day to day life of the real life characters. History comes alive and you learn that what we know today leaves out the story of some very involved activists. This is their story and a very worthwhile one it is. Nonfiction, history that is a very entertaining read, similar to historical fiction. So interesting and you'll find yourself marveling at details of that "gilded" age - the personalities, the politics, the parties and fashion and the day to day life of the real life characters. History comes alive and you learn that what we know today leaves out the story of some very involved activists. This is their story and a very worthwhile one it is.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Norman Brewer

    Johanna Neuman's examination of the New York socialites who stepped out of their comfortable roles to broaden support for women's suffrage is an important addition in the story of that movement. Support was broadened more specifically by the husbands the suffragists brought along, albeit sometimes kicking. Neuman has solidified her spot as an historian of the 19th Amendment with her new book And Yet Thy Persisted: How American Women Won the Right to Vote Johanna Neuman's examination of the New York socialites who stepped out of their comfortable roles to broaden support for women's suffrage is an important addition in the story of that movement. Support was broadened more specifically by the husbands the suffragists brought along, albeit sometimes kicking. Neuman has solidified her spot as an historian of the 19th Amendment with her new book And Yet Thy Persisted: How American Women Won the Right to Vote

  22. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Hatch

    Almost 4 stars. I’ve read some great suffrage books recently, so my expectations were high. This was quick and interesting, but some thing felt off... the organization could’ve been better and there were a couple claims the author made that I felt were over-simplified. I would’ve loved a little more nuance & connection in her analysis. It was still a very enjoyable read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Akemann

    I felt that this book was very well written and worth my time in reading. I have always had an interest in the suffragist movement and this helped remind me why. This book was given to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patti

    Maybe a 3.25 on the scale. A quick, 5-hour audio “read”. This book makes a case that America’s right-to-vote suffragettes were successful due to the richest socialites in New York including surnames of Vanderbilt, Astor, Tiffany and Rockefeller financially supporting the cause.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Overall the book was very interesting. I’ve read a lot about N.Y. state history, and so many of the names were familiar to me. It was hard to follow though, I feel the book could have been organized a little better.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I tried to like it. But it’s just an endless list of names. Some addresses. No big picture. You don’t really get to know any of the actors. Wikipedia would be more interesting.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Judi

    Good information but dry and somewhat choppy. Good for a history lesson, but hard to get excited about.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Learned that wealthy women who donated and acted in support of women's suffrage are often written out of history... Learned that wealthy women who donated and acted in support of women's suffrage are often written out of history...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Well written look into the second half of the Women's Suffrage Movement and how it gained traction. I heard a lot of gems that could and should be referenced by the social reformers of this century. Well written look into the second half of the Women's Suffrage Movement and how it gained traction. I heard a lot of gems that could and should be referenced by the social reformers of this century.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

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