Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870–1920
2019 Benjamin F. Shambaugh Award winner
2019 Gita Chaudhuri Prize winner
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“Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest provides us with convincing evidence of the importance of women in creating and shaping public attitudes in the American heartland. Looking at political activism and beyond—to questions about the influence of women in specific regional organizations—she charts the origin of a Midwest culture that differs from other regions and demands analysis of its own unique character.”—Joan M. Jensen, New Mexico State University
“This lively and engaging study offers refreshing and instructive insights into suffrage efforts carried out at the grassroots level by everyday women in a part of the country whose contributions are frequently overlooked. Sara Egge deftly disentangles the various arguments for suffrage, primarily equal rights versus maternalism.”—Nancy C. Unger, author, Belle La Follette: Progressive Era Reformer
Historian Sara Egge offers critical insights into the woman suffrage movement by exploring how it emerged in small midwestern communities—in Clay County, Iowa; Lyon County, Minnesota; and Yankton County, South Dakota. Examining this grassroots activism offers a new approach that uncovers the sophisticated ways midwestern suffragists understood citizenship as obligation.
These suffragists, mostly Yankees who migrated from the Northeast after the Civil War, participated enthusiastically in settling the region and developing communal institutions such as libraries, schools, churches, and parks. Meanwhile, as Egge’s detailed local study also shows, the efforts of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association did not always succeed in promoting the movement’s goals. Instead, it gained support among midwesterners only when local rural women claimed the right to vote on the basis of their well-established civic roles and public service.
By investigating civic responsibility, Egge reorients scholarship on woman suffrage and brings attention to the Midwest, a region overlooked by most historians of the movement. In doing so, she sheds new light onto the ways suffragists rejuvenated the cause in the twentieth century.