The best books about the amazing fight for women’s voting rights

Who am I?

My great-grandmother was a suffrage leader in Maine from roughly 1914-1920, and is the subject of my first book, Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage. Florence helped found and led the Maine branch of the Congressional Union, working closely with the indomitable Alice Paul. In 2015 I retraced the original route of an epic cross-country trip for suffrage; this led to my novel, We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip. I did extensive research for both books and have become passionate about women’s rights history. I speak frequently on suffrage to students, historical societies, libraries, book clubs, and other groups.

I wrote...

We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip

By Anne B. Gass,

Book cover of We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip

What is my book about?

We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip is based on the true story of an epic cross-country trip that took place in 1915. It was America's first trans-continental car trip for a cause- to demand that Congress pass an amendment to the US Constitution enfranchising women.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Ingeborg Kindstedt and Maria Kindberg, middle-aged, lesbian Swedish immigrants who own the car, do all the driving, and fix what goes wrong. The roads are often bad, and the weather is worse. They lose their way in a trackless Nevada desert and get stuck in the mud in Kansas, amid many other adventures. Will they arrive in DC at the appointed day and time?

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Alice Paul: Claiming Power

By J.D. Zahniser, Amelia Fry,

Book cover of Alice Paul: Claiming Power

Why did I love this book?

Alice Paul deserves more recognition as a hero of the American suffrage movement. If she were a man there would be statues of her all over the place, and buildings and streets named after her, too. 

I like this book because it examines Paul’s early influences including her Quaker upbringing and her extensive graduate education. It also provides much more detail about her work with the militant suffragettes in England, where she got her start in the movement and developed the more confrontational style that blew up the more staid, incremental approach of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Exhaustively researched but super readable, this book really gives you a sense of Paul as a person as well as a suffrage leader.

By J.D. Zahniser, Amelia Fry,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Alice Paul as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alice Paul redirected the course of American political history. Raised by Quaker parents in Moorestown, New Jersey, she would become a passionate and outspoken leader of the woman suffrage movement. In 1913, she reinvigorated the American campaign for a constitutional suffrage amendment and, in the next seven years, dominated that campaign and drove it to victory with bold, controversial action-wedding courage with resourcefulness and self-mastery.

This riveting account of Paul's early years and suffrage activism offers fresh insight into her private persona and public image, examining for the first time the sources of Paul's ambition and the growth of her…

Sisters in Spirit

By Sally Roesch Wagner, John Fadden (illustrator),

Book cover of Sisters in Spirit

Why did I love this book?

This provocative book examines the role and status of women in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and how 19th-century white feminists used them as role models in beginning their own fight for rights, including suffrage. It’s a quick read and kind of a life-changing one, really, especially if (like me) you’re completely ignorant of Native history and its relation to US history.  

Among other things, Haudenosaunee women had the right to choose and advise tribal leaders, and had far more control over their persons and their children than Euro-American women did. Wagner argues that close relationships with the Haudenosaunee influenced people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage leading up to the famous Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

By Sally Roesch Wagner, John Fadden (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sisters in Spirit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women sparked the revolutionary vision of early feminists by providing a model of freedom at a time when American women experienced few rights. Women of the Six Nations Confederacy possessed decisive political power, control of their bodies, control of their own property, custody of their children, the power to initiate divorce, satisfying work and a society generally free of rape and domestic violence. Historian Sally Roesch Wagner recounts the struggle for freedom and equality waged by early American women documenting how Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Matilda Joslyn Gage were influenced by their Indigenous women neighbors.

Book cover of The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

Why did I love this book?

One indicator of a great book is when, even though you know how the story ends, you still can’t put it down. In The Woman’s Hour Weiss takes us through the final days and weeks that led up to Tennessee becoming the 36th (and final) state to ratify the 19th Amendment. It’s a page-turner. 

Weiss takes us behind the scenes to show how endemic misogyny and racism combined to (almost!) tank ratification in Tennessee. Among other strategies, suffrage opponents dispensed alcohol freely to legislators (all men) to buy their votes. The whole suffrage movement came down to this titanic struggle in one state, which was won by one vote. You will be shocked by the lengths to which opponents were willing to go to block women’s independence.

By Elaine Weiss,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Woman's Hour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for every reader" -- Hillary Rodham Clinton

Soon to be a major television event, the nail-biting climax of one of the greatest political battles in American history: the ratification of the constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Nashville, August 1920. Thirty-five states have approved the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote; one last state--Tennessee--is needed for women's voting rights to be the law of the land. The suffragists face vicious opposition from politicians, clergy, corporations, and racists who don't want black women voting. And then there are the…

Book cover of African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920

Why did I love this book?

Until relatively recently the American suffrage movement was told only from the White perspective; Black women’s contributions were minimized -  when they received any mention at all. Terborg-Penn’s groundbreaking work challenged that viewpoint through her extensive original research that revealed the stories of Black women activists who worked for suffrage within their own clubs when they were discouraged from joining the mainstream white organizations. 

This book is a bit dry and academic but is well worth a read because it brings to light amazing women such as Mary Church Terrell or Frances Ellen Watkins Harper who fought both racism and sexism in their efforts to win voting rights for all American women.

By Rosalyn Terborg-Penn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Rarely has a short book accomplished so much as Terborg-Penn's seminal work. With the utmost attention to detail Terborg-Penn examines the contributions of black suffragist stalwarts . . . It undoubtedly will become the definitive work on African American women's involvement in the mainstream woman suffrage movement and specifically on black women's struggle for the vote." -Choice

" . . . this is a well-written overview of a crucial aspect of African American history that would be ideal for the college classroom." -Journal of American History

" . . . not only a major contribution to suffrage history . .…

Book cover of Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement

Why did I love this book?

When I began researching suffrage history I was captivated by the images I found, including illustrations the suffragists created. Yet most books written about the suffrage movement are nonfiction narratives, with only a handful of images. The suffragists were brilliant at using images to skewer the anti-suffragists’ ridiculous statements about how women voting would ruin families and society.

A graphic designer by trade, Cooney upended that model by gathering together a vast array of photographs, cartoons, and other images depicting both pro-and anti-suffrage sentiment. It’s a great gift to us, and to future generations, to have all of these images gathered together in one book. I love being able to match the names to the photos of these amazing women.

By Robert P. J. Cooney Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Winning the Vote as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winning the Vote captures the color and excitement of a central, inspiring but nearly forgotten chapter in American history. This beautifully designed hardback presents the American woman suffrage movement clearly and chronologically with emphasis on the fascinating personalities and turbulent political campaigns of the early 20th century. Nearly 1,000 photographs, posters, leaflets and portraits illustrate this fascinating account of the expansion of American democracy. Large format images and a fast paced text highlight key developments between 1848 and 1920 including over 52 state electoral campaigns and the final, controversial drive for the 19th amendment. Winning the Vote shows how women…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in suffrage movements, women's rights, and Tennessee?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about suffrage movements, women's rights, and Tennessee.

Suffrage Movements Explore 32 books about suffrage movements
Women's Rights Explore 44 books about women's rights
Tennessee Explore 60 books about Tennessee