September 11-15, 2017
Each day of this week, Anne Boyd Rioux posts another response to questions posed to Brooke about the research and writing of The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote. They can be found, with comments, on Facebook, here.
Monday, September 11:
Question #1 for Brooke Kroeger, author of The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote. Kirkus Reviews describes the book this way: “The Suffragents is the previously untold story of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, an organization founded in 1909 by 150 wealthy captains of industry, media, finance, and commerce. They used their fame, funds, and connections to advance a social justice movement from which they did not stand to benefit directly.”
Q: How did you get the idea to focus on the “gents” in the suffrage movement, and why was it important to you to do so?
A: The idea came to me now several years back—four or five, if I recall correctly. Going back to my first two earliest books, the biographies of Nellie Bly (1994) and Fannie Hurst (1998), I’ve always sought subjects that are fresh, that involve historical recovery, that are mostly based on excavated primary material, and that have a prominent sub-theme. Knowing that the suffrage centennials were in the near offing, I became enamored of the idea of doing something about the suffrage movement, but did not want to retread already well-covered ground.
As I thought about it more and more, it seemed impossible to me that women, who were not for the most part voters, who were not for the most part legislators, who were not in the executive branches of government, could have succeeded without significant help from those in power—almost exclusively men. A simple Google search produced the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, which previous scholars certainly have noted, but always briefly. I checked in with Michael Kimmel, the best known Men and Feminism expert, who confirmed my sense that what the men of 1909-19 had done was historically unique. He also added that he had been waiting 25 years for someone to take up the subject.
Tuesday, September 12:
Question #2 for Brooke Kroeger, author of “The Suffragents:
How Women Used Men to Get the Vote,” just out from Excelsior Editions, SUNY Press.
Q: Who was your favorite “gent” and why?
A: James Lees Laidlaw immediately comes to mind as you ask this question. Laidlaw was the head of a family investment boutique, Laidlaw & Company (still in existence but not in family hands) and a member of the board of directors of what became Standard & Poor’s. Always listed in the New York Social Register, he could trace his lineage back to Colonial days through 50 different lines. A gentleman. He was married to Harriet Burton Laidlaw, one of the key figures of the movement in New York its final decades and one of the first leaders of the League of Women Voters in the state after suffrage was won. Laidlaw was the national president of the Men’s League and the operative leader of the New York State chapter. From their country home in Sands Point, Long Island, they ran numerous suffrage events. He was a tone-setter for the organization. Discreet. Helpful, Taking direction from the women suffrage leaders. When women reporters were barred from covering League activity at the Lotos and City clubs, Laidlaw offered space in his office. The Laidlaws functioned as a team, taking road trips across the state and out west to promote various suffrage campaigns. Best of all is the League’s mission statement, attributed to Laidlaw and unearthed in a New Brunswick newspaper article as filler from a George Middleton column. I had it letterpress printed as a broadside. I find it so potent:
Wednesday, September 13:
Question #3 for Brooke Kroeger, author of The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote, which tells the largely unknown story of the Men’s League for Woman’s Suffrage, a group of powerful men who banded together to lobby for women’s voting rights.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in writing this book? Or was it a breeze?
A: “Breeze? Well, more of a wind tunnel. I’d use the term “invigorating slog” as the hunt for material always energizes me. I’m nerdy enough that it is my idea of fun. The greatest challenge? Wrestling with the ancient interface of FultonHistory.com, where so many historic issues of newspapers that no one else has scanned are buried, and I do mean buried. Mining this treasured resource is almost always a stealth operation. But where else could you find, say, a detailed report on a speech a male suffragist gave in, say, Troy, New York (no, not newspapers.com or newspaperarchive.com or Proquest Historical or ChroniclingAmerica–all also very useful but much easier to navigate) and any attendant commentary.
Thursday, September 14:
Question #4 for Brooke Kroeger, about her book The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote. Stay tuned tomorrow for a giveaway to wrap up Brooke’s week with us.
Q: James McBride says in his blurb for your book that “The collaboration in this balance of power between prominent men who invested in the movement, and the women who directed them, has everything to teach us today.” What does your book teach us that we really need to know now?
A: It’s early as the book just launched Sept. 1, but I very much like that others have picked up on what I hoped might come through. The Kirkus reviewer noted in closing that the book had ” plenty of subtle lessons in the book for modern-day civil rights activists, too.” and Eileen Reynolds, writing for NYU Features, expanded on those themes in her piece “What Allies Today Could Learn from the ‘Suffragents’ Who Helped Women Win the Vote.” (See below.)