Suffrage Song: The Haunted History of Gender, Race and Voting Rights in the U.S.

Writer / Artist
Suffrage Song: The Haunted History of Gender, Race and Voting Rights in the U.S.
Suffrage Song review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 978-1-68396-933-4
  • Release date: 2024
  • UPC: 9781683969334
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: History

As time passes what was once a battle desperately fought is absorbed into the normal state, and the early struggles in the face of entrenched opposition fade. So it is with the right of women to vote in elections, which feeds into a bigger picture of women’s rights. It’s a matter taken for granted in most ‘civilised’ countries, yet there was an area of Switzerland where it took until 1990 before women could vote in local elections.

Caitlin Cass restricts her coverage to the USA, where racial issues also played a large part, something she agonises over in an introduction explaining how some women featured stood up for what they believed should be their basic rights while exploiting others. Feet of clay are always unsettling. Even more so is the first statement following the introduction, that it took 72 years between the first Women’s Rights Convention and the 19th amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, and even then it was 1965 before the removal of restrictions to women from minorities being able to vote.

In preference to a strictly chronological story Cass arranges her history around themes, the pages colour coded to indicate the era in which they occurred, and she includes a series of portraits naming the people within. The result is awkward at times, for instance having to consult the portraits to identify Fanny Hamer in the left sample art, but overall Cass organises an immensely intimidating and complex topic in a way permitting a wide spread of accounts and threads. Susan B. Anthony looms massive over the first third, yet many may be surprised at the involvement of Frederick Douglass, and Cass can add her own comments of outrage, or point out lies and contradictions.

Cass is a limited artist, but a good designer, and uses what she has effectively in hundreds of small drawings accompanying her extensively researched text. The result of that research means even those well versed in the history of American suffrage are likely to discover new material, such as the story of Mabel Pin Hoa Lee. She’s one of several spotlighted as taking part in a successful New York campaign. Horror stories, atrocities and relentless violence accompany protests, and the wonder is that it took so long for common sense to prevail. Cass doesn’t speculate as to why Woodrow Wilson eventually reversed his opposition to suffrage, but highlights other distressing traits often glossed over by history texts.

Suffrage Song doesn’t end with the eventual passing of the 19th Amendment, as Cass continues to explore the large sections of the population still without a vote, and ends with an epilogue detailing current attempts to restrict voting. It’s no surprise to learn this is predominantly in areas already poor and disenfranchised.

Some might find the density and crowded art off-putting, but anyone with an interest in the fights women had to be able to vote will dig deeper and discover how smartly Cass has co-ordinated such a vast amount of information.