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Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women's Suffrage Movement - Wendy L. Rouse


The women’s suffrage movement, much like many other civil rights movements, has an important and often unrecognized queer history. In Public Faces, Secret Lives Wendy L. Rouse reveals that, contrary to popular belief, the suffrage movement included a variety of individuals who represented a range of genders and sexualities. However, owing to the constant pressure to present a “respectable” public image, suffrage leaders publicly conformed to gendered views of ideal womanhood in order to make women’s suffrage more palatable to the public.


Rouse argues that queer suffragists did take meaningful action to assert their identities and legacies by challenging traditional concepts of domesticity, family, space, and death in both subtly subversive and radically transformative ways. Queer suffragists also built lasting alliances and developed innovative strategies in order to protect their most intimate relationships, ones that were ultimately crucial to the success of the suffrage movement. Public Faces, Secret Lives is the first work to truly recenter queer figures in the women’s suffrage movement, highlighting their immense contributions as well as their numerous sacrifices.


My Review: An eye-opening historical volume focusing on a mostly neglected side of the suffrage movement. Literature is abundant when it comes to this politically empowered group of women, however, queer suffragists, the heart of the suffrage movement, were ridiculed and left in a dark corner of history. Femininity was important to the leaders of the movement, as they were hoping it would increase their chances to reach their political goals. The book gives us a good picture at the difference between feminism and femininity, between traditional and non-conforming. The queer suffragists included a variety of personalities, with different sexual orientations and lifestyles and the author offers us a wonderful glimpse into the past lives of some of these women and the communities they created.


Looking at this volume as a whole, it's not just a comprehensive social study on women in the Progressive Era, but a model to look at when analyzing the queer movement in our current times. It's a push towards acceptance and creating a positive collective identity. Wendy L. Rouse's extensive research that brought to light the lives of these wonderful women is a breath of fresh air for the recent historical literature releases.


Publisher: ‎ NYU Press (May 24, 2022)

Language: ‎ English

Hardcover: ‎ 256 pages

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1479813940


Review copy provided by NYU Press @ Edelweiss+