I don’t remember reading any children’s books about the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement until I was well into adulthood. It was not discussed in elementary school, nor junior high or high school. I was an adult before I learned much about it, despite living in Nashville, TN, where the 19th Amendment was ratified. August 18th marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, and in celebration, I’ve compiled this list of 13 children’s books about the movement, including 3 books for young adult and middle grade readers. My children–and I hope yours too–will be learning about this movement before becoming adults.
As a side note, the movement was rife with racism. White women used the efforts and labor of abolitionists and Native American women to determine the most effective ways to protest, but almost all of the major white women in the movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, placed white women’s suffrage above that of women of color—particularly African American women—and were willing to use racist tactics to ensure white women won the right to vote. I’m disappointed that so far, most children’s books about the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement paint the movement as white, which is very untrue. I’m hoping for more diversity in children’s books about the movement in the future. I’ve tried to include as many diverse books as I could find in this list.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS ABOUT THE U.S. WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea BY SUSAN CAMPBELL BARTOLETTI, ILLUSTRATED BY ZIYUE CHEN
Full of gorgeous illustrations, photographs, timelines, and voting memorabilia, this immersive read is great for older elementary to middle-grade readers. Bartoletti centers the narrative around the Women’s March of 1913 in Washington, D.C., and the two women who organized it, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. These women and this march were integral to the eventual passing of the 19th amendment, and this text is a fun and fascinating way to introduce young readers to the movement.
Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote BY KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, ILLUSTRATED BY MAIRA KALMAN
In Bold & Brave, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand gives snapshot bios of ten fascinating women from the movement, from well-known figures like Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth to lesser-known but equally important women like Inez Milholland and Jovita Idár. Senator Gillibrand doesn’t shy away from addressing the racism in the movement, either. Paired with stunning illustrations from Maira Kalman, this is the most beautiful book on this list. I ostensibly bought it for my daughter, but I enjoy flipping through its pages as much if not more than she does.
Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass BY SUZANNE SLADE, ILLUSTRATED BY NICOLE TADGELL
Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas formed a long-lasting friendship in their campaigning against slavery and for the rights of African Americans and women. This picture book chronicles their friendship through public ridicule, successes, failures, and disagreements, accompanied by soft and lovely watercolor illustrations by Nicole Tadgell. At the end of the book, both the author and illustrator explain the research that went into creating it.
Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told BY WALTER DEAN MYERS, ILLUSTRATED BY BONNIE CHRISTENSEN
This picture book biography follows the life of activist and suffragist Ida B. Wells from her birth as a slave to her anti-lynching and women’s suffrage activism. Interspersed throughout the text are actual quotes from Wells. This picture book does not hold back on the horror of lynching; it recreates a full-page spread of a famous lynching photograph depicting a noose being hung from a tree. It’s a great introduction to Ida B. Wells and to the major social issues of her lifetime.
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles BY MARA ROCKLIFF, ILLUSTRATED BY HADLEY HOOPER
This picture book is a winner with my kid and her favorite on this list. It’s about two suffragists, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, and a black kitten traveling in a bright yellow car across the United States to convince people that women deserve the vote. They drove through blizzards and got stuck in the mud many times, but their perseverance kept them going. Without women like them, the message of women’s suffrage wouldn’t have reached rural areas. The illustrations are vibrant and yellow-themed, and with a kitten on every page, it’s gold for younger children.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 BY MICHELLE MARKEL, ILLUSTRATED BY MELISSA SWEET
This isn’t exactly about the Women’s Suffrage Movement, but the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike and other women’s worker strikes came to be part of the movement for women’s justice. Clara Lemlich was only a teenager when she started organizing strikes. This picture book tells of her immigration to America, how she learned English and went to school despite supporting her family by working at a sewing factory. Women and young girls were locked (literally) in factories for 12 hour days. Sometimes, these factories would catch on fire and the workers would be unable to leave. Clara protested against this treatment. This book is very accessible for elementary school students, and the illustrations are lovely.
Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote BY TANYA LEE STONE, ILLUSTRATED BY REBECCA GIBBON
This is my favorite children’s biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the primary initial leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Her father was a lawyer, and from a young age, she would debate with him. In another time, she likely would’ve become a lawyer herself. But she continued to debate for women’s rights throughout her life. This is a simple and colorful biography for elementary-aged children.
When most suffragists practiced polite activism, Alice Paul took up a militant approach to her protests. She learned this approach in England, and after England’s women won the right to vote, she came back home to the United States to practice what she’d learned. She became a thorn in Woodrow Wilson’s side as she picketed the White House and demanded face to face meetings with him. Her activism kept the movement in the press and eventually helped lead to the passing of the 19th amendment. This is a simple and accessible picture book about her life, with fun illustrations.
V is for Votes! A Suffragette Alphabet – 100 Years of Female Suffrage! BY ERIN ROSE WAGE, ILLUSTRATED BY JANE PICA
This is the only board book on the list, and the only book specifically for babies and toddlers. I can’t wait to read it! Each letter of the alphabet is paired with a suffragette, from Carrie Chapman Catt to Sojourner Truth, or an aspect of the movement.
The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History BY ELISA BOXER, ILLUSTRATED BY VIVIEN MILDENBERGER
Febb Burn’s letter to her son Harry encouraging him to vote for suffrage became the deciding factor in the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which happened in Nashville, TN. The vote passed by one and that one vote was Henry’s. This picture book combines Febb’s biography with a brief history of the movement and a look at how rural women lived. I love this story, and I also find it infuriating that Harry needed his mother to guilt trip into voting with integrity. The illustrations in this picture book look like watercolors mixed with colored pencils and they’re lovely.
YOUNG ADULT AND MIDDLE-GRADE NONFICTION ABOUT THE U.S. WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
This adaptation of Weiss’s book for adults maintains the suspense and historical details of the original (though pared down) and includes illustrations and areas dedicated to defining key terms. This is a great starting point on the Women’s Suffrage Movement for middle graders, but teens and adults would enjoy it, too.
Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot BY WINIFRED CONKLING
This is an excellent starting point on women’s suffrage for teens or adults intimidated by 500+ pages of history. Conkling gives a thorough overview of the movement without the text becoming overwhelming. She also specifically addresses the movement’s relationship with the abolitionist movement and the racist attitudes that pervaded it. With lots of photographs, this history book is accessible and doesn’t hold back in its analysis of the more problematic issues of the movement.
Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box BY EVETTE DIONNE
While there are several adult books that focus on the African American woman’s role in the suffrage movement, this is the only book I know of that does so for young adults. In addition to giving a detailed history, Dionne includes biographical profiles of African Americans who were involved in the movement, like Ida B. Wells, Fannie Hamer, and Frederick Douglas. While most overviews of the Women’s Suffrage Movement revolve around three women—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul—Dionne shows that the movement was far less white than it’s usually presented. Written for a middle grade audience, teens and adults will find it just as fascinating and infuriating.
A version of this list first appeared on Book Riot. I’ve added children’s books to what was originally published, and taken away the adult titles. If you’re looking for some books for adults about the movement, look there for the full list! If you’re looking for more children’s books, here’s a list of feminist books for toddlers, and another of picture book biographies about U.S. women.
Don’t’ forget to vote!