Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment

From the review:

In The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment, Corrine M. McConnaughy sets out to “develop a general framework for understanding why politicians act to widen the democratic circle, and use that framework to explain the politics of woman suffrage” (p. 4). She argues that previous studies of the woman suffrage movement focused too closely on the suffragists and not enough on the lawmakers who actually gave women the right to vote. To fill this void, she examines the legislative process in several states to discover how and why a majority of their legislators were convinced to support woman suffrage. 


McConnaughy’s study begins with a general discussion of suffrage in America and analyzes how the electorate expanded over the decades. In connection with this, she offers what she describes as two models of enfranchisement: strategic enfranchisement and programmatic enfranchisement. She defines strategic enfranchisement as when “a single political party acts to enfranchise new voters expecting to reap electoral rewards” (p. 34). As an example, she describes how the Republican Party fought for suffrage for African Americans in the years following the Civil War and was rewarded with the votes of these new members of the electorate. Programmatic enfranchisement, on the other hand, is when pressure for change  comes from the voters. A third party appears that holds so much leverage with voters that the major parties are forced to address the key issues presented in that new party’s platform or face the defection of a large number of voters.


After rejecting strategic enfranchisement as a framework to explain how women gained the vote, McConnaughy turns to individual states to build a case for programmatic enfranchisement.

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