Sisters The Lives of America's Suffragists

Jean H. Baker

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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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, historian Jean H. Baker interweaves these women's private lives with their public achievements. Baker presents these revolutionary women in three dimensions, humanized and approachable. Stone the martyr and missionary; Stanton the antireligious individualist; Anthony the activist lesbian; Willard the organizational mastermind; Paul the militant feminist. Finally, these formidable founding mothers of American feminism have been introduced as the sisters they were to each other, and as they must be remembered by the feminists who follow in their footsteps.


Praise for Sisters

"No reader can walk away from this [book] without understanding, and being moved by, the tremendous accomplishments of these women."—Geeta Sharma-Jensen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Jean H. Baker shows us the human web that shaped five women in their self-awareness, nonconformity and leadership in the struggle for suffrage . . . By weaving together their public and private lives, Baker deepens our appreciation for the warp and woof of their struggle."—Anne Grant, The Providence Journal

"Baker's book gives a clear picture of these women who passion for equal rights led them to spend their lives seeking social change."—Stell Simonton, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"In Sisters, historian Jean Baker provides an eminently readable account of the lives of five of the leaders of America's women's suffrage movement. Baker's contribution to this well-mined field is to thoroughly interweave the private lives of her subjects into their public lives and contributions . . . This book, which includes eight pages of black-and-white photographs, provides valuable insights into the family lives, sexuality friendships, and public accomplishments of the five suffragists . . . Although excellent book-length biographies of all these leaders already exist, Baker provides a valuable addition to the literature by bringing all five together in one volume . . . She does present the public and private lives of these five fascinating ‘sisters' in an accessible manner that will be of interest to both undergraduates and the educates general reader interested in historical biography or women's history."—Virginia R. Boynton, Journal of Illinois History

"A fascinating book because it shows the interconnectedness of these five women over the seventy-five years or so that it took for women to be given the right to vote."—Nola Theiss, Charlotte Woman

"Public work, private lives: a thoughtful portrait of five women's-rights pioneers. Baker is right to suggest that our view of the suffragists is gray and one-dimensional: 'We conflate them into one middle-class overweight white woman with a severe look, hair unflatteringly pulled behind her ears, dressed in a high-necked black dress with a lace collar and cameo pin for decoration.' In fact, she observes, the early feminists were a diverse lot, though with some commonalities—many, for instance, had suffered at the hands of fathers or husbands and therefore understood firsthand the injustices wrought on women by virtue of mere gender. Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard and Alice Paul, each of whom Baker considers indispensable to the women's movement, were quite different, each possessing a different reason for advocating women's right to vote: Stanton wished to advance women's rights generally, for example, while her ally Anthony paid closer attention to the rights of working women. Baker carefully traces the origins of these various emphases while linking them to episodes in the leaders' lives: Stone, foremost a champion of women's education, attended college against her father's wishes; it took her nine years to save enough to pay a year's tuition, but her success there swayed her father to lend her money for the next year. Anthony, no stranger to 'same-sex passion,' and Stanton, married for 47 years, forged an alliance of ideas and activism while finding reasons to disagree on many points. And Willard campaigned vigorously not only for women's rights but also for 'sexual purity' and temperance, motivated by the death of a brother to alcoholism and the certainty that women who smoked and danced could have no self-respect. A lucid account that humanizes historical figures hitherto rolled up into a single image."—Kirkus Reviews

"Baker examines the personal and professional lives of five of the most famous leaders of the battle for American women's suffrage: Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, and Alice Paul. Individual chapters, most of which could be read as stand-alone pieces, examine each woman's motivations and attitudes; relationships with parents, siblings, and male and female lovers; strategies to win the vote; advocacy of other reforms; and relationships with other activists, placing them within the historical and political context . . . The book's close examination of the personal lives and motivations of the leaders may intrigue those new to the topic."—Library Journal

"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 . . . works to great effect, not only vividly brings these women to life but explicating the complicated social and political framework in which they existed . . . Baker has written a popular (yet scrupulously footnoted), smart and compelling book."—Publishers Weekly

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  • Jean H. Baker

  • Jean H. Baker teaches history at Goucher College and is the author of James Buchanan and Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • Jean H. Baker Stan Rudick