Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946

Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946

Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946

Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946


Treacherous Texts collects more than sixty literary texts written by smart, savvy writers who experimented with genre, aesthetics, humor, and sex appeal in an effort to persuade American readers to support woman suffrage. Although the suffrage campaign is often associated in popular memory with oratory, this anthology affirms that suffragists recognized early on that literature could also exert a power to move readers to imagine new roles for women in the public sphere.

Uncovering startling affinities between popular literature and propaganda, Treacherous Texts samples a rich, decades-long tradition of suffrage literature created by writers from diverse racial, class, and regional backgrounds. Beginning with sentimental fiction and polemic, progressing through modernist and middlebrow experiments, and concluding with post-ratification memoirs and tributes, this anthology showcases lost and neglected fiction, poetry, drama, literary journalism, and autobiography; it also samples innovative print cultural forms devised for the campaign, such as valentines, banners, and cartoons. Featured writers include canonical figures such as Stowe, Fern, Alcott, Gilman, Djuna Barnes, Marianne Moore, Millay, Sui Sin Far, and Gertrude Stein, as well as writers popular in their day but, until now, lost to ours.


The story of the achievement of woman suffrage in the United States is a story worth telling, perhaps most significantly because what began as private conversations among women (and men) grew into one of the largest propaganda campaigns in the world: a campaign that culminated in the effective doubling of the number of eligible voters in one of the largest democracies in the world. By some estimates, as many as twenty million U.S. women were enfranchised when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August 1920. Never before or since has an act of legislation enfranchised so many people. It is true that only one-third of the eligible women voted in the presidential election that immediately followed their enfranchisement and many women of color were quickly disenfranchised. Still, in recent presidential elections, more women than men vote, a trend suggesting that the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment marked both the end of a long, challenging campaign to enfranchise women and the beginning of a movement to involve women more fully in national politics.

The most familiar narrative of the U.S. woman suffrage movement originated in The History of Woman Suffrage, the first volumes of which were assembled by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the movement’s most active nineteenth-century leaders and orators. Their history focused primarily on white, middle-class, Protestant reformers from the northeastern states, who came to the woman’s rights cause through their involvement in antislavery and temperance organizations. These reformers gave public lectures, organized conventions, authored woman’s rights manifestoes and petitions, and addressed state legislatures to lobby for constitutional changes at both state and federal levels. Their efforts were rewarded after their deaths, when the Nineteenth Amendment, which made it illegal to deny or abridge any citizen’s right to vote “on account of sex,” was ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures in 1920.

As compelling as this homogeneous narrative is, it has been complicated in the past twenty-five years by feminist scholars working in diverse disciplines including history, women’s studies, rhetorical studies, political science, and cognate disciplines.

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