Setting the record straight on the driving forces in the early-20th-century fight for women's suffrage.Former Los Angeles Times and USA Today journalist Neuman (Scholar-in-Residence/American Univ.; Lights, Camera, War: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics?, 1996, etc.) counters the popular opinion that these women were merely "bored socialites trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris," and she makes a solid case. They sought the vote as a marker of educated privilege, and many were mocked, termed spinsters, lesbians, and intellectuals. If that was their loudest obstacle, female indifference was their silent enemy. Success was slow; by the century's end, only four states had granted women the right to vote. In 1907, Daisy Harriman and others opened the Colony Club, New York's first club exclusively for women. The members included 700 women prominent in professions and society, and they debated a wide variety of subjects—not just pro- but also anti-suffrage, the arts, and matters of civic and social interest. A new generation of women of wealth and standing stepped up in 1908, most notably Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and Katherine Duer Mackay. Belmont, who was domineering, audacious, and independently wealthy, used the newfound celebrity journalism to manipulate the press for the movement. Mackay used her femininity and famous fashion sense to approach the elite and influence the influential. She taught women to take a ladylike, maternal purview to the public square, eschewing the violent methods seen in Britain at the time. Where Mackay offered a coy wink, Belmont employed a cold bribe, but they each succeeded in pulling the movement out of the doldrums. Though mockery continued, Belmont, Mackay, and others made fruitful use of their considerable contacts, making New York the center of activity and encouraging cross-class coalition. Neuman concisely explains how these gilded women have been airbrushed out of history, resented by those who felt exploited, but thankfully, they succeeded, and women vote today because of them.
"Imagine, if you will, you've managed an invitation to a society event in Gilded Age Manhattan. In her compelling study of personality and social power, Johanna Neuman introduces you to the women in the room, all fashionable, most wealthy beyond imagination, and yet all politically powerless. These are not the women we think of as leaders in the fight for women's right to vote, yet here they are in this fascinating study, dressed to the nines, disarming to the patriarchy, and determined. Both socialites and activists, they shaped an age when fashion and celebrity became weapons of radical change."-Marc Pachter,Director Emeritus, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
"First impressions, 'that unconscious cue that forms a feeling or opinion.' Fashion, style, dress, all non-verbal signals to society about one’s social status, occupation or heritage. Dr. Neuman brilliantly explores how the doyennes of America’s elite used their wardrobe and homes to lure a movement and promote an ideology. These political socialites made the Red Carpet their runway for the cause of women’s suffrage and promote a fashionable trend under the label 'Votes for Women Campaign.' "-Norine Fuller,Executive Director, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, FIDM
"With its rollicking narratives of determined personalities and rancorous barbs, Gilded Suffragists makes the story of winning woman suffrage encompass the several determined and super-wealthy New York women whose leadership, social cachet and fashionable presence injected new liveliness and power into the movement at crucial junctures."-Nancy F. Cott,Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University
"In this fast-paced and important book, Johanna Neuman reminds us of the enormous mobilizationsthe rallies and speeches and campaigns—that women of all classes engaged in to build one of the most consequential social movements in American history. Elite women from New York City, Neuman emphasizes, played a central role in these mobilizations. They entered the political fray at considerable risk and used their resources, influence and cultural capital to move the nation towards equal voting rights."-Sven Beckert,author of Monied Metropolis
"Setting the record straight on the driving forces in the early-20th-century fight for women's suffrage . . . Neuman counters the popular opinion that these women were merely "bored socialites trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris," and she makes a solid case . . . Neuman concisely explains how these gilded women have been airbrushed out of history, resented by those who felt exploited, but thankfully, they succeeded, and women vote today because of them."- Kirkus Reviews
"This flowing account of women, whose financial contributions, celebrity, style, and innovative strategies revitalized a cause and changed history, will be welcomed by all readers."- Library Journal