My new book, Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women’s Right To Vote, tells the fascinating story of more than two hundred New York social figures -- Astors, Belmonts, Harrimans, Vanderbilts and their circle -- who joined the women’s suffrage movement in the 1910s. Chronicled by a vibrant newspaper industry for their extravagant lifestyles, they became the media darlings of their day. And when these glamorous socialites embraced the suffrage campaign, they became the first celebrities to endorse a political cause in the twentieth century.…
Available September 2017
In writing about people, I delight in discovering aspects of their lives that illuminate their character. When I wrote the obituary of Ronald Reagan, I read that as he was leaving the presidency, a reporter asked Reagan what it had been like to be an actor in the White House, the first. He cocked his head, smiled and said, “There have been times in this office when I’ve wondered how you could do the job if you hadn’t been an actor.” To me, that anecdote told volumes about his values and his perspective on power and its uses.
To me, the four most powerful words in any language are, “Once upon a time.” Storytelling is inspiring, and at its heart is a focus on people. Stories, whether novels or histories, hold a mirror to our own lives, teaching us about ourselves and about our shared fears, observations and ambitions.
My Interview with C-SPAN
Much has been written lately about the meaning of Wonder Woman, from the portents of the film’s box office charms to the intentions of the cartoon’s original creator. In her book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Harvard political scientist Jill Lepore has an interesting take on William Moulton Marston. Moulton, as he signed himself in his cartoons, created the Amazon goddess in the 1940s, when he was maintaining two families – one with his wife, another with his mistress – and reminiscing about the women’s suffrage and birth control movements in the 1910s and 1920s. He had a thing for chains, inventing a magical lasso to empower Wonder Women in her efforts to compel men to do her biding. As Lepore told NPR’s Fresh Air, it was complicated.
I find it fascinating that Moulton was inspired to create Wonder Woman in part because of the struggle by women to win the right to vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton first proposed the idea in 1848. Stanton’s proposal was so controversial that her own husband, New York lawmaker Henry Stanton, refused to attend her Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, for fear it would hurt his political career. It took 72 years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified, and even then it was a squeaker, as the U.S. Senate repeatedly rejected the idea and finally, after both houses had passed the amendment in 1919, it took another year for two thirds of the states to ratify the idea. The 36th state was Tennessee, where the liquor industry and leading anti-suffragists put up a ferocious battle. In short, much like Diana’s fight against Ares, the forces of evil were never easy to subdue.
But the truth is that the Wonder Woman of Gal Gadot’s performance is compelling for a far less scholarly reason. She reminds us that there are no limits on what a woman can achieve if she is raised with the mindset not of gender restrictions but of human possibility. We can all be Amazons, if only we will invest in ourselves. President Theodore Roosevelt, a leader of anti-trust reforms and the master of the bully pulpit, the original muckraker, was slow to embrace the suffrage movement. The issue bored him, and he often mused in the early 1900s that women would gain the right to vote when they wanted it enough to get it. Only later, in 1912, when he was trying to recapture the White House by running as on the Progressive Party ticket, did he endorse suffrage to gain the votes of those women who had already been empowered to vote in the Western states.
In a way, TR was right. Flexing their political might, descending on Washington, D.C. and then various state capitals, those suffragists won the vote when they became proud of their power. Like Diana, they broke chains.
My interview on WNYC News
Aug 2, 2016 · by Jim O'Grady
As she campaigns, Hillary Clinton is making history as the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party. But 77 years before Clinton was born, an upstart named Victoria Woodhull wrote a letter to The New York Herald announcing her ground-breaking bid for the White House. This is the story of the first woman to run for president, in 1872, and how she compares to the latest.