In Quinn’s She Votes, 100 Female Artists Retell the Suffrage Movement Story

 

If there was ever a time to get out and vote, it’s now.

An illustration of abolitionist Sojourner Truth by San Jose-based artist Dani Pendergast, featured in She Votes (Photo: Dani Pendergast)

But, first: Raise your hand if you can explain the real story behind the suffrage movement aside from what you learned in grade school. Right, that’s what I thought.

The sad truth is, there’s a lot that most of us don’t know about how women “earned” the right to vote, including how long the process took. For example, did you realize that Sacajawea, one of the core members of (and the only woman in) the Lewis and Clark expedition, weighed in on where the team would spend the winter of 1805-06, and no one batted an eye?

How about the fact that Sojourner Truth didn’t actually say her famous quote, “Ain’t I a woman?” (Her actual anti-slavery speech from 1851 was much more evocative than the version written down by a white lady many decades later). Or that the first time a woman wore pants on the floor of the U.S. Senate was in 1993?

Bridget Quinn’s She Votes: How U.S. Women Won Suffrage, and What Happened Next, which was released Tuesday, Aug. 11, is a sylloge of some of America’s most badass women’s toughest battles and greatest accomplishments in the too-long slog toward equality. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment, Quinn is scheduled to talk about She Votes through a free virtual event hosted by Green Apple Books at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18.

With equal parts savvy and sass, Quinn hits all the milestones, including the real lowdown on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott and their role in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, which officially launched the suffrage movement; Alice Paul and iconic journalist Ida B. Wells’ disagreement over whether Black women were welcome at the 1913 suffrage march; and the rise and spread of second-wave feminism via Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, Gloria Steinem and the founding of Ms. magazine in 1971.

Bridget Quinn, author of She Votes (Photo: Chronicle Books)

She also unpacks some of history’s less-covered high points, such as the first intercollegiate women’s basket ball (as originally spelled) tournament — done in bloomers and held in San Francisco in 1896 before intercollegiate women’s basketball was banned by Stanford in 1899, lasting for seven decades; Audre Lorde’s influential poetry and the Combahee River Collective; and the kick-butt escapades of the Guerrilla Girls and third-wave feminist activists the Riot Grrrls. (Anyone remember Bikini Kill? I certainly do.)

Sprinkled throughout the 19 chapters are 100 gorgeous renditions of pioneering people or moments, each impeccably illustrated by some of today’s most renowned and up-and-coming illustrators, including Libby VanderPloeg, Umaimah Damakka, San Jose-based Dani Pendergast, and Bay Area artist Ariel Dunitz-Johnson.

Quinn started working on the book in the spring of 2017, shortly after the release of her first book, Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order). She had attended the Women’s March in 2016 in Washington D.C., which served as the perfect source of inspiration.

From there, it was all research and perseverance. What she uncovered was both illuminating and surprising.

An illustration of Alice Paul, a leader behind the campaign for the 19th Amendment, which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote. (Photo: Ariel Dunitz-Johnson)

“The most shocking thing I learned was that women U.S. Senators weren’t allowed to use the Senate swimming pool until 2008 … It’s because some boy senators liked to swim au naturel. So, naturally, no girls allowed,” Quinn says. “Along the lines of more, well, significant history, I was stunned to find out that Sacajawea was reinserted into the American story by an Oregon novelist and suffragist named Eva Emery Dye. She recognized in this young Native mother she found in Lewis and Clark’s journals a foremother for American women.”

Unlike some history books that read as overly snoozy or dense and impenetrable, She Votes is accessible, witty and fun.

“I (wanted) to engage students — and everyone — in a way that was not threatening, or God forbid boring, but not at all dumbed-down either,” she says. “Using humor and sometimes profanity — it’s a way of puncturing some of the bloviating that can accumulate around discussions of art especially, but also history.”

An illustration of suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt by Umaimah Damakka (Photo: Umaimah Damakka)

As for what Quinn hopes people will take away from the book, she’s pretty clear.

“When we recover, tell, expose, highlight the forgotten stories of the past, we can change the trajectory of the future. I really believe that. If in no other way, by changing individuals, their hearts and minds (and) giving them strength, hope, pride and purpose,” she says. “I can think of only one meaningful message for all of it, the only way to honor the past and secure our future: vote.”

Quinn isn’t resting on her laurels, even during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s already working on a new collection.

“It’s a book about artistic rivalries, the French Revolution, 18th century feminism and a 21st century showdown,” Quinn says. “In other words, the story of French 18th century portraitist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, her rivalry with famed painter (and history “winner”) Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and my 30-year effort to secure the right woman on top.”

 

 

She Votes: How U.S. Women Won Suffrage, and What Happened Next
By Bridget Quinn
Foreword by Nell Irvin Painter
Illustrated by 100 female artists
Chronicle Books
(240 pages; $35)

Originally posted in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 11, 2020