This short excerpt is from Violet’s Snow’s novel published in 2021 by Epigraph Books. Lightwood presents this piece as part of our collaboration with the reading series, Next Year’s Words, curated by Susan Chute. This novel is a fine addition to the history of the Feminist/Suffragette movement in th early 20th century.
Summary of To March or to Marry:
In New York City of the early 1900s, two young women find their friendship torn apart when one of them abandons the dignified, middle-class feminism of their women’s club to join suffragists marching for the vote. Abbie struggles with issues of marriage and motherhood, while Louise seeks independence, but they need each other’s help to find their voices in the contentious world of emerging women’s rights.
Visionary feminists Alice Paul and Harriot Stanton Blatch are among the historical figures who make their appearance in this novel about the battle for the vote and the quieter but profound influence of the women’s clubs that gave women tools for changing society.
On the day Louise defied her husband and ran from the house, only rage kept her from falling into despair. Still slightly out of breath, she was pounding her feet against the sidewalk, wondering what her mother thought of Charles now that he’d turned his fists on his wife, when she saw a group of women on the street corner up ahead. They were handing out yellow bills to people who passed, few of whom took the slips of paper. As she approached, she heard one of the women call out, “Votes for women! March with us!”
Her first impulse was to ignore them. She knew suffragettes were rude, loud women. Their cause may have been just, but their methods were unpleasant and would surely never succeed. A young woman detached from the group and came toward her with a bill outstretched. “Votes for women!” she enthused. “March with . . . Oh dear, what happened to you?” She turned and shouted, “Emily!”
Two others came over, as Louise reached up to her hat, thinking it must have come askew again. When she lowered her arm, she saw blood on the cuff. No wonder people had been looking at her. “Does someone have a mirror?” she asked the three women.
One of them took a small mirror from her handbag. Another gave her a handkerchief, saying, “It’s clean.”
“Oh, dear.” Louise daubed at the blood on her cheekbone and peered at the bruise rising beneath her eye. “I hate that man!” Later she reflected that she would not have had the courage to make such a bald statement in front of strangers if she hadn’t known they were passionate about the rights of women. At the time, she was simply touched to know these ladies were trying to take care of her. Fury gave way to tears. The whole group of seven gathered around. “My husband. I thought he was so gentle, and it turns out he’s a fiend. Just because I wanted to go to my women’s club.”
“You should join us,” said Emily. “We’re having a parade for the vote on May the fourth. We need the power to make our own decisions, and the right to vote is the first step. Men shouldn’t be allowed to do what your husband has done.”
“But how is voting going to help?”
“What would happen if you called a policeman after your husband hit you?”
“Nothing, I expect. It’s between him and me.”
“Well, if there was a law against a man hitting his wife, then the policeman would have to do something. Do you think men are going to make that law? Not unless we have a say in the matter.”
Louise looked around at their outraged faces and felt comforted. “You’ve been very kind to me. I have to get to my club meeting.”
“Our headquarters is right down the street,” said Emily. “Bring your clubwomen, and we’ll all hand out bills, and next weekend we’ll parade together on Fifth Avenue. We suffs are going to change the world.”
Violet Snow is a freelance journalist who has been published in the New York Times, Woodstock Times, Civil War Times, American Ancestors, and many other periodicals. The feminist journal Minerva Rising recently printed an excerpt from her historical novel, To March or to Marry, about suffrage and women’s movements in the early 20th century,