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How Women Won The Vote:
Teaching Kids About The U.S. Suffrage Movement

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Katherine

20 Books & Films About the Fight for Women's Suffrage in the United States

us-suffrage-blog-webFor children today, it's hard to imagine a time when women couldn't vote; realizing that they've had that right for less than 100 years is astounding. It's equally shocking when they learn that women had to fight for 72 years before the 19th Amendment — which stated that no citizen could be denied the right to vote on account of sex — became law. So it's imperative that we teach today's children about the struggle for women's suffrage, not just to honor the dedication and sacrifices of the women who led the Women's Suffrage Movement, but also to ensure that future generations don't take the right to vote for granted.

In this blog post, we're highlighting books and films about women's suffrage in the United States: the history of the movement, the women who led it forward, and the tremendous challenges that they faced in their quest to ensure that women's voices could be heard at the ballot. These stories will both educate kids about a critical moment in women's history and inspire them to see the power of determined activists and political leaders to make big changes in the world.

For more books about suffrage in both the US and around the world, visit the Suffrage section of our Women's History Collection. For books about the voting rights struggles which continued during the Civil Rights Movement, visit our special feature on the Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History.

How Women Won The Vote

Elizabeth Leads The Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote

From an early age, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was aware that women did not have equal rights with men — and she was determined to change that. Unlike many women of her time, she went to college and soon began gathering other like-minded women to demand equality. At the first ever women's right conference that she organized in Seneca Falls, New York, Stanton presented the Declaration of Right and Sentiments, which included a demand for the women's right to vote. In this picture book biography, Tanya Lee Stone focuses on seeing the world through Stanton's eyes, without facts or dates, making her relateable for younger readers; an author's note at the end talks about Stanton's further accomplishments after the convention.

Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women's Suffrage

It's 1896, and all Bessie wants is to go hiking with her father and brothers... but girls don't hike, so they leave her at home. Instead, she gets to meet an intriguing guest: Susan B. Anthony, in town for a suffrage rally in hopes of passing the first referendum on women's suffrage. Inspired by Anthony's speech, Bessie recruits a friend to join her as she helps at the suffrage headquarters. There may be lots of things that Bessie can't do, but perhaps, someday, those restrictions will finally lift. Although the 1896 referendum did not pass, Claire Rudolf Murphy's fictional story of a real Californian girl hints at the change to come: Bessie's mother learns to ride a bicycle and her father decides to take her hiking after all.

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer

In the 19th century, "proper young women" wore voluminous skirts that hampered their movement — and stayed quiet about issues like the right to vote. Fortunately for history, Amelia Bloomer refused to be proper! This light and breezy book follows Bloomer as she founds her own newspaper, works to popularize the idea of women wearing pants instead of skirts, and urges women to turn their minds from the latest fashion to the quest for equality. This celebration of a daring woman — from whom we get the word "bloomers" — is perfectly accented with exuberant, brightly colored illustrations.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, A Kitten, and 10,000 Miles

Nell Richardson and Alice Burke wanted to convince America to support equal voting rights for women... so in April 1916, they set out from New York City to tell people in person! In a little yellow car, carrying key supplies like a typewriter, a sewing machine, and a little black kitten, they toured the country over 10,000 miles of bumpy, muddy terrain. In honor of the 100th anniversary of their whirlwind tour, author Mara Rockliff and illustrator Hadley Hooper have created a charming and lively picture book that beautifully captures their spirit of adventure and their determination to spread the message about equal voting rights.

Heart On Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony made history — and broke the law — by casting a vote in the presidential election. Anthony was prepared to argue that the 14th Amendment, which had been ratified in 1868, extended voting rights to women. In this inspiring story, kids follow Anthony as she casts her vote, and then persists in arguing for women's suffrage even as she is arrested, tried, and convicted — what she called "[t]he greatest outrage history every witnessed." The story ends with the judge's infamous fine of $100, which Anthony refused to pay. This dramatic celebration of Anthony's tireless efforts on behalf of women's suffrage, which wouldn't be added to the US Constitution until 1920, will have kids seeking out more information about this dedicated suffragist.

I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote

All her life, Esther Morris' response to any challenge was, "I could do that." She proved her mettle when she started her own business at the age of 19. But even though she knew she was capable of voting, only men were allowed to cast a ballot so she decided it was time for a change! Morris led the first successful  American campaign for women's suffrage in Wyoming Territory, which passed in 1869, and went on to become the first woman judge and the first woman to hold political office in the US. This lively story captures the determination and confidence of a woman who never saw a thing she couldn't do.

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency

In 1884, women weren't allowed to vote for America's president but a woman named Belva Lockwood realized that there wasn't anything preventing a woman from running for president! And she was no gimmicky candidate: Lockwood had gone to college and passed the bar, and had even argued cases in front of Supreme Court. Although her campaign was difficult, Lockwood never wavered in her commitment to the fight for equality. She earned the respect of many voters and thousands of votes — and started an important conversation about women's role in politics. This fascinating story is accented by elegant illustrations, and includes a glossary and a timeline of the Women's Suffrage Movement.

Elizabeth Started All The Trouble

This unique picture book takes readers on a journey through the seven decades of the Women's Suffrage Movement. From Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott at the Seneca Falls convention, to Alice Paul and Lucy Burns' protests that finally led to the 19th Amendment, this book presents a capsule history of the movement, its key figures, and the most important moments on the quest to get women the vote. With enough detail to satisfy a newly independent reader, but an accessible tone that creates a sense of excitement to the story, this newly released book is sure to become a favorite resource on women's history.

Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts

When women were just beginning their quest for the vote, it's important to remember that African Americans still faced the struggle to end slavery. In this work of historical fiction, award-winning author Nikki Grimes imagines a conversation between Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor and civil rights advocate, and Susan B. Anthony, the famous women's suffrage leader. As they chat, they tell their stories, set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing 19th century America. This unique look at two of America's history-making women also includes back matter that encourages kids to learn more about them and their period of history.

Ida B. Wells: Let The Truth Be Told

While trailblazing journalist and activist Ida B. Wells is best known for her work with the Civil Rights Movement, she was a devoted suffragist as well. This book takes young readers through Wells' life, from her birth in slavery to her remarkable academic career, and then highlights her work as a teacher and crusader for equality on multiple fronts. Walter Dean Myers captures the determination and drive of this incredible woman, while Bonnie Christensen's historically accurate illustrations enhance the text. The contributions of women of color in the Women's Suffrage Movement are often overlooked, so this book provides an opportunity to discuss their role in the journey towards universal suffrage.

Who Was Susan B. Anthony?

The indomitable Susan B. Anthony gets her own entry in the accessible Who Was...? biography series! From her time working as a schoolteacher in New York — where her refusal to accept lower pay than her male colleagues marked the beginning of a career advocating for women's rights — to her speaking tours in the US and Europe, this book captures the real woman behind the history books. These popular illustrated biographies capture the time period and the personalities involved and are a great way to introduce kids to key figures from history.

A Woman In The House (And Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country

Did you know that Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, won her seat at a time when many women in America still couldn't vote? Author Ilene Cooper's intriguing story of women in politics begins with the Suffrage Movement and then goes on to tell the story of the women who have since played roles in America's national political scene. By sharing their stories, Cooper simultaneously highlights the successes of the past and present, while also showing why parity in politics is such an important goal. Kids will enjoy the informal writing style and the interesting anecdotes about these history-making women.

33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women's History: From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A.

This book provides a unique introduction to women's history, including the Suffrage Movement, through the eyes and words of multiple authors. From poetry to essays to art and historical photographs — written by people from both past and present — these pages cover stories of famous women and major accomplishments of the women's rights movement (including the passage of the 19th Amendment), as well as discussing issued that still affect girls today. Inspiring, emotional, and intriguing, it will leave girls eager to learn more about the women who shaped the way they live their lives today.

A Time For Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, Washington, D.C., 1917

Kathleen's mother and sister are determined to help the suffragists get women the vote — despite the disapproval of her father and uncle — but although "Cat" would like to be by their sides, she's too young for the picket line. At the same time, the war overseas endangers people she loves, including her cousin Alma, who escapes her parents' bitter divorce by becoming a Red Cross nurse. In the pages of her diary, Cat writes about the unexpected success of the picket and the swelling ranks of suffragist demonstrators, as well as about the consequences the protestors face every day. This book from the popular Dear America historical fiction series puts a face to these moments of history.

Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote

In this lively narrative, Kerrie Logan Hollihan provides an overview of the Women's Suffrage Movement for tweens and teens. Hollihan looks at several heroes of the movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Burns, and Alice Paul, as well as the events and people that stood in the way of getting women in America the vote. Along with the history, the book provides 21 activities that give girls a sense of what life was like during the lives of these remarkable women, from making a protest banner with coat hangers to baking a cake with suffrage frosting. This entry in the For Kids book series is sure to get kids thinking differently about the decades of work towards the vote.

Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony

This fascinating documentary tells the story of how these two determined and courageous women became the strong roots of the women's rights movement in the United States. Through a combination of actors reading the women's writings, commentary from historians, and archival photographs and footage, director Ken Burns tells each woman's story — as well as the story of their friendship — and shows how each chose a different path that, nevertheless, led each of them towards a life of activism on behalf of American women. Finally, he shows how far women's rights have come since Stanton and Anthony started their crusade, and highlights how their work continues to resonate with today's women's rights activists.

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)

What is now a childhood rite of passage — riding a bicycle — was once a revolutionary opportunity for women to gain freedom of movement and independence. Sue Macy uses vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and more to show how the ability to travel freely made definitive improvements in women's lives — something that's still happening in other countries of the world today. Most importantly, the ability to travel alone to gather with other women was a key element in the success of the Women's Suffrage Movement; with two wheels of her own, no woman had to wait for her father's or husband's permission to stand with the suffragists.

With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote

When Alice Paul helped design the banners for the Women's Suffrage Movement, she suggested three colors: purple for justice, white for purity of purpose, and gold for courage. The colors were apt, because facing the angry opponents of women's suffrage required an ample helping of all three! In this book, Ann Bausum melds archival photographs with a compelling narrative telling of the history of women's suffrage to create a history book that reads like a thriller. Bausum doesn't shy away from the consequences that these brave activists faced, from prisons full of rats to force-feeding when they went on hunger strikes. Her book serves as an apt reminder that women were not given the vote -- they won it, through blood, sweat, and tears.

One Woman, One Vote

This documentary of the seven decade fight for women's suffrage in the US examines how a country that proclaimed itself the world's greatest democracy could justify refusing the vote to so many citizens. Director Ruth Pollack presents the reasons that people of both genders opposed the idea of women's suffrage, and explores how the women's rights movement managed to overcome their objections in order to pass the 19th Amendment in 1920. Susan Sarandon narrates this story, which also touches on notable figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul, and captures the shift as women's suffrage went from a fringe opinion to a sophisticated, organized movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the married mother of four boys; Susan B. Anthony was a  former school teacher who was resolved never to marry. And yet these two women shared a deep conviction in the need for women's rights — and particularly the right to vote. Together, they worked tirelessly to change attitudes and laws, despite ferocious opposition from outside the movement and betrayals from friends and family. Penny Colman's excellent narrative has just been reprinted in a paperback edition, ensuring that a new group of girls will have the opportunity to read about this influential friendship.

The Feminist Revolution — A Story of the Three Most Inspiring and Empowering Women in American History: Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, and Betty Friedan

The struggle for women's suffrage may have been long and arduous, but it was also the springboard to many other great strides for women! In this newly revised version of Jules Archer's excellent book, kids learn about three critical figures from American history who rarely appear in general history books. Archer lays out how Susan B. Anthony's role in pushing for women's right to vote set the groundwork for Margaret Sanger's quest for the right to birth control, and then to Betty Friedan's campaign for equal job opportunities. All of these are things that today's girls and women may take for granted; this book highlights not only the sacrifices that were necessary to gain these rights, but also how each of them was a necessary prerequisite to the next.

Iron Jawed Angels

By 1910, many individual states had introduced women's suffrage — but Alice Paul wanted universal suffrage for American women, ensured by a constitutional amendment. In this dramatic, contemporary telling of Paul's quest, director Katja Von Garnier shines a harsh light on the treatment of the suffragists — including scenes of the police refusing to protect a parade, and of Paul, played by Hilary Swank, being force-fed by tube during a hunger strike in prison. The film ends on a melancholy note — Paul also proposed the Equal Rights Amendment, which was not ratified by all states in time for the 1982 deadline — as a reminder to viewers that, for all of the heroism of the women of the past, it will take the women of the present and the future to see their work completed.

Additional Recommended Resources


This post was posted in Front Page, Women's History, A Mighty Girl Top Pick, A Mighty Girl Spotlight and was tagged with women's history, suffrage, activists, suffrage movement, 19th Amendment, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women's rights