ONCE UPON A TIME WHEN WOMEN STILL COULDN’T VOTE, monthly book clubs used to double as suffragette meetings, even in Houston. These clubs, which gave women a place to talk civics before they could fully participate, were all the rage. In fact, says Elizabeth Gregory, the UH director of women’s gender & sexuality studies, “The Ladies’ Reading Club paved the way for the formation of the Houston Public Library.”
How fitting, then, that upon the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote—the 19th Amendment was passed in June 1919 and ratified in August 1920—the Houston Public Library is in the midst of a yearlong, citywide Suffrage Centennial Book Club, featuring a title a month.
Each of the 12 selections offers a great way for Houstonians to connect with stories of suffragists, activists, and politicians while pondering our own experiences participating in the democratic process, according to Carmen Peña Abrego, the library’s interim manager of systemwide programs. “These themes are as deeply urgent today as they were in 1920,” she says.
No worries if you’ve already turned your “Votes for Women” sash into a face mask: you can still celebrate suffrage by reading along this summer. Here are the books that are coming up:
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
A New York Times best seller, The Invention of Wings weaves together fact and fiction in its portrayal of real-life 19th-century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sarah Grimke and her slave, Hetty. As with her debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd delves into conflicts of gender and race as both Sarah and Hetty fight to find their voices, this time in the restrictive world of antebellum South Carolina.
Seneca Falls Inheritance by Miriam Grace Monfredo
Mystery meets history when Elizabeth Cady Stanton asks Glynis Tryon, a librarian in Seneca Falls, New York, to help organize the first women’s rights convention in 1848. The librarian soon finds herself investigating the murder of an heir to a great fortune instead in this book, the first in a series in which mysteries are backdropped against the evolution of women’s and minority rights in the United States.
The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss
In July 1920, just over a year after Congress had passed the 19th Amendment, Tennessee was poised to become the 36th and final state to ratify it, and activists were working around the clock to make that happen. Weiss goes inside that process—detailing the lobbying, demonstrating, and double-crossing that filled those contentious weeks leading up to ratification on August 18, 1920—while also examining the complex legacy of this key moment in American history. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television is already set to adapt Weiss’s riveting account.