Queer suffragists were central to the women’s suffrage movement in the United States from its earliest days. However, in a movement that placed great importance on public image in service of the goal of achieving the vote, queer suffragists who pushed the boundaries of “respectability” were sometimes ostracized, and others hid their queerness, or had it erased by others.
Joining me to help us learn about queer suffragists is historian Dr. Wendy Rouse, Associate Professor in History at San Jose State University. Dr. Rouse is the author of a new book from New York University Press, Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women's Suffrage Movement.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Image Credit: “Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) and Mary Garrett Hay (1857–1928) casting ballots, presumably during the midterm elections, November 5, 1918.” Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (128.00.00)
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Kelly Therese Pollock 0:00
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. On today's episode, we're discussing queerness and queer suffragists in the women's suffrage movement in the United States, from the late 19th century, through ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. In recent years, historians have paid increased attention to the people who are left out of the official accounts of the suffrage movement. This has meant recognizing the contributions of Black women and women of color who were active in the movement, some of whom we've highlighted on this podcast in the past. It has also meant recognizing the contributions of queer suffragists whose role in the movement, or whose queerness have sometimes been overlooked, or even actively suppressed. As today's guest, Dr. Wendy Rouse writes, "In many ways, the suffrage movement was remarkably inclusive, providing sanctuary to individuals reflecting a wide range of gender expressions, gender identities and sexualities, while fostering the formation of a variety of queer relationships. But queer suffragists had to develop complex strategies for survival in a movement concerned with public image, and focused solely on one goal." The push to what became the 19th Amendment kicked off in July, 1848, at the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, the first women's rights convention in the US. Queer suffragists were central to the movement from its earliest days. Susan B. Anthony, whose name was lent the 19th Amendment, for her crusading work for suffrage, and who co-wrote the six volume, "History of Women's Suffrage," never married. As she told a reporter in 1896, "I never found the man who was necessary to my happiness. I was very well as I was." Anthony had well documented relationships with two women, orator Anna Dickinson and later, Emily Gross, whom Anthony referred to as her lover. When Anthony died in 1906, a friend remarked, "Times are very hard with dear Mrs. Gross, I fear." Susan B. Anthony's niece, suffragist Lucy Anthony was the longtime companion of physician and minister Anna Howard Shaw, who was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, from 1904 to 1915. Lucy and Anna lived together in a home Anna built in Media, Pennsylvania, and Lucy was with Anna when she died in 1919. After Anna's death, Lucy referred to her as "my precious love" and "the joy of my life." There are numerous examples of queer relationships among suffragists, many of which were actively erased by families and biographers, and sometimes even by the suffragists themselves, who destroyed their own papers, or asked for their papers to be destroyed upon their death. It wasn't only in their relationships that suffragists defied cis hetero normativity.
Suffragist, Dr. Mary Walker was the first woman surgeon in the US Army and was awarded the Medal of Honor for her heroism in the Civil War, the only woman to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor. Walker was an advocate of dress reform for women. And she criticized suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony for failing to advocate for dress reform. According to Walker, "The greatest sorrows from which women suffer today are caused by their unhygenic manner of dressing. The want of the ballot is but a toy in comparison." In her 1865 wedding to fellow medical student Albert Miller, Walker wore the reformed costume of a skirt over pants. Other suffragists, including both Stanton and Anthony had experimented with reformed dress, but they had returned to traditional feminine clothing in a bid for acceptance to further the cause of suffrage. Walker, whose marriage lasted only a few years, went a different direction. She wrote two books on dress reform and was frequently arrested for wearing men's clothing, including a top hat. When she died in 1919, she was buried in a suit instead of a dress. Suffragist Annie Tinker's gender queer appearance also challenged expectations, and she used the notoriety it gave her to bring attention to the suffrage movement. Tinker, who preferred to be called Dan, is said to be one of the first women to ride astride a horse in Central Park. She recruited a suffrage cavalry of women who led demonstrations on horseback, including in several suffrage parades in New York City, claiming traditionally male spaces as their own. Tinker argued that women should be permitted to fight in war. She sailed to Europe to help in World War I, joining the British Red Cross before the United States had even joined the war. In 1921, the French government awarded Tinker a medal for her war service. When Tinker died at age 39, in 1924, she left a will that gave use of her property to her erstwhile romantic partner, Kate Darling Nelson, for as long as Nelson lived, with the principal thereafter to be donated to a charity for women who worked for a living. Tinker's mother contested the will, and in the end, Nelson received half of Tinker's assets, of which she used part to immediately fund Tinker's charity. The Annie Tinker Association for Women gave grants to retired women so they could live independently. In 2018, the association dissolved and the assets were transferred to the Annie Rensselaer Tinker Fund in the New York Community Trust, which continues to support the lives of elderly women, keeping Tinker's legacy alive. Joining me now, to help us understand queer suffragists is historian Dr. Wendy Rouse, associate professor in history and program coordinator in social science teacher preparation at San Jose State University. Dr. Rouse is the author of a new book from New York University Press, "Public Faces, Secret Lives: a Queer History of the Women's Suffrage Movement," which discusses the queer lives of many more suffragists than I've had the chance to touch on here. Welcome, Rouse, thanks so much for speaking with me today.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 9:17
Thanks for having me here.
Kelly Therese Pollock 9:18
Yeah, this is a really fun subject. I've enjoyed a lot getting a deeper knowledge of the suffrage movement in general, as I've been able to do a couple times on this podcast, so it's really fun. So tell me a little bit about how you got into this. So you've written a couple of other books that were on very different subjects. How did you get into this particular topic?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 9:41
Yeah, well, I think I've always been interested in the women's suffrage movement. I, I teach it every year as part of the US History course. And I just, I've read a lot of books on the topic, but most of the books are political history. And I started to be curious about the relationships of the women in the movement, because what I noticed is that the more you kind of dive into people's lives, the more you realize just how much they kind of sacrificed to be a part of the movement. And at first, I wasn't interested in queer relationships, I was just interested in like, mother/daughter relationships, husband/wife, relationships, sisters that were involved in the movement. And I was looking at the ways in which the movement in some ways, like tore apart those relationships, like literally like husbands divorcing their wives and, and mothers and daughters completely disagreeing on the issue. And then I was also interested in how being a part of the movement, they created these new relationships, really important and significant friendships, and even love relationships, which I didn't really see until I started diving into it. And then I realized, oh, there's these queer relationships. And so there's this whole like story that we've heard snippets of and different people's work, but it was a much bigger part of the movement than I realized. And so that, so it was kind of a gradual process. Like, I didn't go in looking at queer suffragists, but once I was in there, that's all I could see really.
Kelly Therese Pollock 11:14
So I wanted to talk a little bit about terminology, because you talked about that in the introduction, and you are using the word queer. And so I want to sort of dive into what what you mean by queer, and you have a couple of different meanings of queer and why this is the word that you're using.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 11:32
Yeah, so at that time, during the era of the suffrage movement, our modern terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, were not in usage. So none of the suffragists would have called themselves gay or lesbian at that time. So in thinking about how to respect their own self designation, but also reflect on what we know today about all the different queer identities, I chose the broad word queer, meaning non-normative. That's the way that I go about using it in the book. So they were not heteronormative relationships. And also, when I look at gender and gender expression, there are also individuals who are are not necessarily cis, or they're not, they might be considered non binary, if we were to use that term that we use today back then. So then I use the term queer to refer to those who kind of defy the gender and sexual norms of their time period.
Kelly Therese Pollock 12:31
And then you're also using queer as a verb. So when you talk about sort of queering the history of the suffrage movement, what what does that mean?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 12:40
I mean, that they kind of upended the norms of the tactics of the suffrage movement of I have chapters that look at family structure, that look at death rituals, that look at the actual, like, spaces and places in the movement. So when I use queering, in that sense, I'm referring to the ways that they up ended the expectations and the norms of those places, and spaces and, and relationships.
Kelly Therese Pollock 13:05
Yeah. So the the title of your book, then is "Public Faces, Secret Lives." And so you know, as you mentioned, you didn't go in looking for this. And it wasn't till you were sort of digging a little bit under the surface, that these are the relationships and the stories that came out. So what are some of the reasons that that it is a little bit more hidden, that it isn't a history that, you know, was sort of immediately obvious to us?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 13:31
Right. And I think a lot of times historians say that they're uncovering a new history. But in this case, literally, that's what was happening, because so much of it had been buried or destroyed, the evidence of it, because the suffragists themselves to begin with, were concerned about respectability, and their public image. And so anything that maybe deviated from the norm, to the extreme that it impacted the movement, they would try to hide. Now some people didn't, I want to clarify, there's a whole range of strategies that that people chose for themselves. Some people were boldly out there defying the norms, but other people were doing it more privately in their, in their own personal lives. And publicly, they presented a totally different face of the movement. And so what we have then is, over time, we have kind of a sanitizing of the history of the suffrage movement, where some of these queer elements get diffused or completely removed, either by the suffragists themselves, by descendants, or later biographers who maybe weren't even aware. And so that work of recovery is trying to find what was there, but has now been removed.
Kelly Therese Pollock 14:42
Yeah. So then let's talk about sources and where you're going to find this and the the kind of, I think you say, sort of reading between the lines or reading against the grain kind of thing that you need to do sometimes to find these kinds of stories. So what are the sources that you're looking at here?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 15:01
I really struggled with this in the beginning, because of course, you want to go straight to their diaries and find them talking about all of this right, or their letters. But oftentimes there wasn't anything there. At first. At first, you're thinking, there's just nothing. I don't see anything. So there was a suffragist. Her name was Alice Morgan, Wright, and everyone has suggested or implied in her biographies that she had a lifelong companion, you know, and that, perhaps that, that she was queer. But then I was looking for hard evidence during the suffrage movement. What kind of relationships did she have? Was there queer relationships, you know? What happened over time in her life and, and that she ended up with this partner? And so I went into her documents and files expecting to see something, some love letters, and there wasn't anything there. So the question is really interesting, like, why were there no letters between her and the most important person in her life, when she kept letters, all the other letters, right? So what I started to notice was that there was there were gaps, or what they refer to as archival silences. And so I began to look for why certain things weren't there, things that you would expect to be there. If someone saved all of the letters during their life, and yet, conspicuously missing are these set of letters. And so as I started looking for those things, I would find hints and clues that would suggest it. So I found a letter from her companion, her partner for life. And it's actually referred to her taking those letters out of the collection. And I don't know what she did with them, but I'm assuming she kept them for herself or destroyed them. And so that's part of what wasn't in there. So then that adds that element that we know, to that story. And then I started looking in in the backs of notebooks and sketchbooks, things that you wouldn't normally look at, like her college poems, right, or things like that, where you might skim it and see that they're crossed out drafts. And it's something that was never officially published, or, or given away. And then I would notice that, "Oh, there's initials there, oh, look at this, this has been erased, or this has been crossed out." And then you could see that these were actually love poems that were written not to a man but to another woman. And then through cross checking, you could figure out who they were written to. And then it starts to tell a bigger story. And so it was little pieces like that, that you start to piece together until you can finally see that there is a relationship here. Sometimes it's reading other people's letters talking about them, which was very revealing, like the gossip of the time. And so that gave you all these hints that you were able to put together. And I was very cautious not to just assume, knowing that there's a lot of deep friendships that could have been roommates. Right. So I would look for multiple factors to determine if this was a romantic relationship or not.
Kelly Therese Pollock 17:46
Yeah, I mean, of course, the straight relationships at the time probably didn't have a lot of evidence other than like, maybe a child or two that, that there's any sort of, you know, heterosexual relationship actually happening.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 17:58
Exactly. So it's kind of difficult burden of proof with, with queer people.
Kelly Therese Pollock 18:02
Yeah, yeah. So what are the ways then that these women are able to support each other in these relationships? Like what what are the networks that they're they're building?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 18:14
Well, I have a chapter where I talk about chosen families. And I think that that's very important, because if you think about it at the time, women are denied political equality, but they're also denied economic equality. They don't they do not have equal access to education, to jobs. And so that financial kind of instability of choosing not to marry puts them in a precarious position. And then they don't have the legal protection of being under a husband or a father. So they really did rely on each other, to protect each other and to care for each other and to literally provide for each other. So you often see suffragist, queer or not, moving in together, combining households, providing support, emotional, financial, and otherwise for each other. So I look at, like, the ways that suffragists themselves queered these concepts of households, of family, and created these situations that allowed them to survive and thrive in their own lives and in the movement itself.
Kelly Therese Pollock 19:17
Yeah, and then even into death. I thought that was such an interesting piece, that that you write about. So you have a chapter on that as well. It seems like an odd thing to think about. But then as I was reading it, I realized how much of death and the rituals of death do involve the family and so these are their chosen families, then. Can you talk a little bit about that piece of it?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 19:41
Yeah, that chapter was probably my least favorite and most favorite chapter to write; least favorite cuz it's very sad and there's a lot of loss and grief, but most favorite because it's also where you see their most like telling examples of dedication and love and deep love for each other. And so I felt like it had to be written, as I kept finding numerous examples of the ways that they cared for each other, as evidenced in the actual process of death and grieving. And this kind of just showed you how important they were to each other's lives. So you could literally see, I went to probate records, I went to the death certificates. And I tried to figure out, you know, what was happening at death that can show us the intensity of their relationship and their, the importance that they had in each other's lives. And as you can tell from the chapter, it was, it was very similar to heterosexual relationships, the ways that some of these queer suffragists took care of each other, beyond even their own lives.
Kelly Therese Pollock 20:43
Yeah, and I found it so interesting that in some cases, the, like, the obituaries would even acknowledge that how important they were to each other, but not always. You know, what, it just seems like there, you could find some cases where there was sort of an extraordinary, you know, whether it was a true understanding in the society of what the relationship was, but at least acceptance of the public face of the relationship, and then, of course, some cases where that that isn't so much the case.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 21:14
Right, and that varied quite a bit whether they were kind of accepted as a couple in their community or not. And so yeah, there's a range of examples there of how much how much the community was a part of their relationship.
Kelly Therese Pollock 21:26
Yeah. So of course, in in recent years, in addition to your work, there have been books looking at women of color or Black women in the suffrage movement. But you have interesting sort of intersections there that some of the the queer women themselves are women of color, as well. So what are the dynamics than that they're sort of looking at, you know, in in society, but also in dealing with the suffrage movement when they've got these sort of multiple minority identities that they're dealing with?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 22:00
Yeah, I think that's kind of the intersectionality of it really comes to the fore when you're looking at not only their queer identities, but you know, their race, identity, racial identities, their class identities, and then of course, gender being a huge component of the suffrage movement. So I look at individuals like Alice Dunbar Nelson, who was a Black suffragist, was very active and well respected within the movement, worked for the congressional union and was an organizer throughout Pennsylvania and Delaware. And Dunbar Nelson is obviously very much concerned with respectability, because not only is she a suffragist, and so she needs to, you know, argue and advocate for the vote, reflecting kind of a middle class, professional, educated woman's position. But she's also concerned because she's a Black woman who is really dealing with the racism of the day, in a time when there's disenfranchisement in the south of Black men. And here, she's advocating for the rights of Black women to have the vote. So she really walked this fine line of balancing respectability politics, on the one hand, and presenting a very public image of a middle class, educated professional woman who's married or was married. She refers to her husband, who has passed away and, and really kind of highlights the fact even after she's no longer married, she's divorced. And he's, he's gone. She's still highlights her married status, she she is always introduced as Mrs. Dunbar Nelson, and refers to her husband in her speeches, but the truth is, is that privately she lived a very queer life. She had relationships with men, she had relationships with women, and she would might be considered bisexual if she were alive today, and was involved in an active group of women who were also bisexual. And so it's really interesting, because she walks that fine line of on the one hand, you know, choosing to emphasize her respectability, but on the other hand, she's also has this private queer life, but she's also pushing the norm, challenging this idea that Black women should not have the right to vote, arguing that with the vote, Black women could join with Black men and fight disfranchisement. They could fight against racialized violence. So she's really representative of that intersectional nature of this movement.
Kelly Therese Pollock 24:22
Yeah, and then this respectability, it plays out in different ways. And one of them is dress, which is is so interesting. You start with talking about Dr. Mary Walker, and she's on the cover of the book as well. So what what's going on here? Like what what is it that suffragists think that it matters, how they sort of present themselves physically, and why are they opposed to including dress reform in this movement?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 24:50
I think one of the most interesting things when you dive into the individuals in the movement, is to think about the fact that for all of the women in the movement, the meaning of the vote was completely different right for each one. So some people thought, "If we get the vote, then we'll have equality." Other people were like, "If we get the vote, then we can pass these laws to give us the ability to have any job that we want. Or then we can pass these laws to protect against violence against women in the home." And for some women, it was literally about the freedom, the social freedoms, their ability to, to dress as they please and to act as they please. And I think that the early suffragists recognized that, especially like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the early years, they were all on board with this dress reform movement. And they actually, you know, they wore the bloomers. And they wore this very unique costume that was still a dress, but it's sort of pants and, and they went out, and they showed everybody, "Look, this is what we're fighting for: equality, We can do whatever we want. We can wear what we want." And what they realized right away was that that led to more ridicule. And that led to more public scrutiny, suggestions that they were not respectable, that they were not normal women, implications that something was wrong with them, and therefore, you know, some sort of sexual or gender deviance, and they would refer to them as mannish. And so they kind of the leaders of the movement kind of stepped back and said, "Is this the message that we want to send? Or do we want to focus on our respectability, on our on the vote like that we deserve the vote because we're these middle class women." So they made a significant decision at that point, to really just focus on the vote and to drop some of the other issues that they thought they could win after they had the vote. And so what this meant is that people who still believed in that, like Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, were then kind of pushed aside and told, "You know, you need to forget about that for now. " And Walker was like, "No, this is what we want, we want the quality to do as we please to be as we please." And so if you watch the progression of her throughout her life, she goes from wearing the reformed dress to full on men's clothing, as it was defined at the time. And the whole time, she insisted the whole movement should be fighting for much broader reforms than just the vote. So she's one of the most radical, most boldest women of her time. But because she was so radical, and so bold, the suffrage leaders tried to push her more and more to the outskirts of the movement, began disassociating from her, saying, basically, "We're not we're not in any way affiliated with her or those ideas." They tried to kick her out of the organization. And eventually they even decide when writing the official history of the book, to just not mention her or to put her down in the footnotes. And it was really like it was a topic of conversation between Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton just completely despised Walker and wanted her written out of the book. And so they did, to the extent possible, and then the next generation came along, and Carrie Chapman Catt also did not like Walker. So it was this big, contentious thing. But she was really represents one of the most radical and the most marginalized individuals, because she was defying the gender norms of the day, through her gender expression.
Kelly Therese Pollock 28:11
Yeah, it's an absolutely fascinating story. I feel like there's an important lesson here, like, I don't want to judge people in the past, but I feel like there, there's lessons and I'm not sure how to take them about, you know, they, they sort of switched gears, decided to sort of go with this respectability politics, and very, unfortunately, pushed people out, you know, to the sidelines of the movement. In the end, they did get the vote, you know, so in some ways, it feels like the the techniques, or the tactics that they chose work. But you know, there's a serious cost to that. And there's a cost specifically for the queer women and the women of color. So I guess maybe, you know, I don't want to say whether it was the sort of right thing or wrong thing, because I feel like that's the wrong question to ask. But what what were the costs then to the women? I think that is maybe the sort of question I want to pose is, you know, what, what are the costs to the queer women of having either themselves completely sidelined or having their pieces of their identities sidelined in this movement? You know, what, what does that mean for them, that the movement is not embracing all parts of them?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 29:26
Well, I think, you know, we see this. And just to recap, kind of what you said is, we see women of color, we see working class suffragists, we see queer suffragists all being marginalized, being pushed out of the movement, or at least kind of being veiled in the movement, right? So you can't really see them. They're on the sidelines, even though they're the ones that are out there actively engaged in this work. So I think the danger is one removing them from the history. So if you remove them from the history, literally, like I said, they did not write them into the history of the suffrage movement. They didn't write a lot of the Black women into the history of the suffrage movement. If you remove them from the history, then the implication is that they didn't exist. And that's what we're dealing with today with all these, these these laws trying to remove queer history from the classrooms, right, is this idea that if we remove them, then they won't exist. If the students don't learn about them, then they'll never know. And we know that that's dangerous. We know that that's dangerous, because queer people do exist and have always existed and will continue to exist. So even if you don't mention them, or take them out of the histories, it's not like you're going to make them go away. But you are going to be telling a narrative, that's just not true, and that doesn't include everyone. And I think it's important, we all need to feel a part of history. That's what history is, it's telling us our story, and that our story involves everyone, not just the middle class, white middle class.
Kelly Therese Pollock 30:56
I saw that you work with teacher preparation programs too. What, what are the ways that we can think about encouraging the next generation of teachers to be including that whole history?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 31:11
Yeah, I think, you know, it's really interesting, because there's been a general kind of move away from history, like, there's more emphasis on on science and math and, and technology. And the truth is, is that history is super important. So I think encouraging people to keep studying history, people that want to be teachers to consider being a social studies, teacher or a history teacher, that and emphasizing just how important that is. And we can see how important that is, in our present moment when people lack a basic understanding of humanity and human history. So that's important. And then for teachers to think about how they do need to, to understand history in a broader sense. And it's not just a single political narrative structure, which we often are taught, that it involves our whole our whole history, our social history. And I think that that's happening. I know, here in California, there's movements to make our curriculum much more broad, and inclusive, and it's effective, and teachers are doing it and students are feeling seen and supported in the classroom. And I think that that's the goal is you, we don't want to just be focusing on one group. We want to be focusing on the history of all groups.
Kelly Therese Pollock 32:20
Yeah, yeah, that I think is really important. So, so I want to talk too some about the you talk about the transatlantic history and the transatlantic relationships. And I think that's really important, because I feel like, you know, and I perhaps haven't read enough of those sort of really deep histories of the suffrage movement, but I feel like these are often sort of, at least in popular culture, sort of posed as different things, right. There's, like the suffragists or suffragettes in England, in the UK. And then there's the suffragists in the US. And these are around the same time. But these are like different groups. And they're different movements. And of course, there's not like the Internet back then. So they're not, you know, sort of constantly chatting on Twitter, about about their tactics. But you draw these really interesting connections between the two, and the, the transatlantic relationships that are going on here. And the ways that the queer transatlantic relationships are so important to that and keeping that connection. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that piece of it. And, you know, sort of what what that looks like, and there's multiple ones but uh, you know, it's not like there's just one couple here, there's a bunch that are happening here that seem really important to this history.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 33:35
Yeah, I think that what I found that interesting as well, is just how many of the American suffragists had initially kind of got their start in England. Either they were there studying or they went over there to look at the women's movement. And they learned the tactics of the British militant movement, the women's social and political union, and brought many of those tactics back to the United States. And there's many women, I only focused on a few of the queer women, but there are many women who go over there, they, they, they learn about street speaking, right, and then they come back and they start practicing that here in American cities. And it wasn't yet the radical tactics of breaking windows and whatnot. It wasn't the property destruction. It was things like holding marches and parades and deputations. And, and so these women, they then come back here and they try these tactics. And everybody would say, "Whoa, that's really, I don't know, that's, that's radical," but they had learned those techniques in the UK. And I think I make the argument that not only are the queer tactics that they adopted, important to really pushing the movement in a different direction, but so are the relationships that they build. So again, you have significant friendships, platonic friendships, but then you have these relationships between queer women in on both sides of the Atlantic, and you have romantic relationships in some cases. So I I think I highlight the example of Alice Morgan Wright, who goes over to the UK as a young student, and I believe she's in her early 20s. And she goes to study sculpture, but on the way over, she meets Emmeline Pankhurst, who is the leader of the militant suffrage movement, and develops just this intense romantic crush on Emmeline. And I do not think it was reciprocal, I'm sure Emmeline was the subject of many young women's adoration. But the Alice Morgan Wright's feelings are so intense, she actually writes to a friend talking about how you know much she adores the leader of the suffrage movement, that she goes across from Paris to London to participate in a mass window breaking event and gets arrested. And her parents back home are just completely beside themselves. They cannot believe their sweet young American daughter is in jail in England. So they come, the mother gets on a boat and comes over to try to protect her daughter and get her out of prison. And she's happy as can be because she's serving time for the movement. She's there with Emmeline Pankhurst and she writes love poems to Emmeline on prison paper, and she sculpts a miniature bust out of some clay that she had smuggled in to her with her socks. And it's just this really interesting story about how her kind of queer crush on Emmeline Pankhurst binds her in the movement and continues to motivate her throughout much of the rest of the remaining years. And even beyond the suffrage movement, when there's an international women's movement, she continues to rely on those ties and connections that she built in the United Kingdom, and is able to tap into those and continue that.
Kelly Therese Pollock 36:50
Yeah, yeah, that was a great story. The women going to jail, I think is such an interesting piece of that. And of course, we we know about that when the the women are picketing outside the White House and are sent to jail and go on a hunger strike. But I think it's such an important piece of it that you know, how far they were willing to sort of push themselves to get the vote. And I was especially interested by, you know, when one woman would be in jail, maybe doing a hunger strike, and to think about not her heterosexual partner, but her queer partner who's on the outside, who's who's worried about her, who's writing letters, you know, thinking, you know, "What are you doing?" and then, you know, sort of feeling that that sense of, "I can't protect you when you're in there." It's such an interesting, I think, twist on the the story that, that we maybe have heard, and it seems so important to to this movement.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 37:50
Yeah. And I found that most compelling and especially because there was a list in the National Woman's Party's, papers of each suffrage prisoner that was in jail, and who their immediate contact was like your next of kin, so to speak, because they wanted to make sure that they telegrammed or sent a letter explaining, you know, how they were doing and providing. And so that's one way that I was able to see like, who was the most important person in their life that they put down as their their next point of contact. And then of course, there's a series of telegrams and letters that were passed, either through other NWP members, or through the suffragists themselves. And I was able to kind of look at some of the relationships there. And there's definitely some interesting friendships, queer friendships we'll say, and also potential queer relationships there that you can see through just the intensity of the letters and their concern for each other.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:43
Yeah, I would like everyone to, to know how to get this book because I think my sense reading this was I started to go, "Are there any women who weren't queer in the suffrage movement?" There's so many and so many that you're able to find these great stories about. So how can people get the book?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 39:00
The book is available from the New York University website, NYUpress, and it's also available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.
Kelly Therese Pollock 39:11
Great, and I will put links as well. I'm sure there were women in the suffrage movement who weren't queer. But yeah, it's fun to imagine that they all were.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 39:20
Hey, I started to think that myself. I said that out loud several times, "Is there anyone who wasn't queer?"
Kelly Therese Pollock 39:26
Is there anything else you wanted to make sure we talked about?
Dr. Wendy Rouse 39:29
No, I just think that I think it's a really important story. And I do hope that people read it. And I know that there are many more stories out there, especially from the suffrage movement. So definitely keep learning and sharing and telling these stories.
Kelly Therese Pollock 39:44
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining me. I really really enjoyed your book, and I hope everyone will pick up a copy.
Dr. Wendy Rouse 39:50
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode @UnsungHistorypodcast.com. To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on Twitter or Instagram @Unsung__History, or on Facebook @UnsungHistorypodcast. To contact us with questions or episodes suggestions, please email Kelly@UnsungHistorypodcast.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.
Wendy Rouse is a historian whose research focuses on the history of gender and sexuality in the Progressive Era. Her most recent book, Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement (NYU Press), challenges the heteronormative framing of the traditional narrative of the campaign for the vote. Her previous two books explored the history of women and children in the Progressive Era: The Children of Chinatown: Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850 to 1920 (UNC Press) and Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement (NYU Press). Rouse is presently Associate Professor of History at San Jose State University where she teaches LGBTQ+ and women’s history.