The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s

Article excerpt

The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s. By Lorraine Gates Schuyler. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. xii, 336. Acknowledgments, illustrations, maps, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $59.95, cloth; $22.50, paper.)

Conventional wisdom that seeps, unchecked, into casual conversation is one thing; conventional wisdom that passes for scholarship-and has for decades-is quite another. The latter variety is more invidious in that it not only enjoys the status of something "everyone knows," but benefits doubly from repeated articulation by experts of all sorts. Rigorous empirical testing of such "facts" consequently becomes as important as it is unlikely. In The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s, Lorraine Gates Schuyler supplies us with a detailed and lively account of women's activism in southern politics in the early twentieth century and, in doing so, challenges-successfully-the exceptionally long-lived thesis that the post-suffrage women's movement in the United States was a flop.

Rarely does a book reach so many audiences so substantially. By combing through an impressive collection of primary materials, as well as secondary works in several disciplines, Schuyler has made important contributions to our understanding of first-wave women's activism, social movements (especially in terms of strategy and tactics), and southern politics. Readers of this journal may be especially interested in the last of these, and in the many references to Arkansas actors and events. Such references include original-if brief-treatments of the all-female "petticoat government" in Winslow, Arkansas in 1925 and of our own Hattie Caraway who, appointed in 1931 to fill the vacancy in the U.S. Senate left by the death of her husband, stunned the male establishment by seeking, and winning, the seat the following spring. But dozens of other Arkansans-suffragists and antisufifragists, legislators, party leaders, women's club members, and activists-also make an appearance in this work, thanks to Schuyler's diligent indulgence of her own, ample curiosity.

With respect to the politics of the broader region, The Weight of Their Votes describes at some length the early-twentieth-century machinations of southern white males who were determined to maintain their monopoly on political power. From registrars who resigned their posts rather than register members of the fairer sex and husbands who refused to pay their wives' poll taxes, to (defeated) efforts in several states to return to nomination-by-caucus and mandate repeat registration (for new voters only), to multi-ballot-box systems and vote-by-scratch-through rules, it is an inventory that rivals V. …