Panelists talk about how 100 years of women’s suffrage leads up to the 2020 election

By Ava Turner

Elm Staff Writer

On Thursday Oct. 1, the Sophie Kerr Series held a Zoom conference featuring Casey Cep and Elaine Weiss, to discuss Weiss’s book on women’s suffrage, “The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote.”

Weiss, who is from Maryland, “is an award-winning journalist and writer,” according to her website. Weiss’s works have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York Times, Boston Globe, and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cep, who is also from Maryland, is a journalist and author who is a journalist for The New Yorker. Cep wrote an article about Weiss’s book titled “The Imperfect, Unfinished Work of Women’s Suffrage.”

Weiss’s book encompasses the stories of key characters in the fight for women’s suffrage from 1878–1920. She characterizes not only women’s suffrage advocates, but also the anti-suffragists including women, clergymen and the textile and liquor industries.

Weiss’s interest in women’s suffragists was sparked when she read about Merriam Leslie, a wealthy heiress who was a suffragist. 

When Leslie’s husband Frank Leslie died, she took over his publishing company, and even changed her name to his making it more successful than it ever was when he had run it. When she died, she almost everything to Carrie Chapman Catt, a famous suffragist, and instructed that the money be devoted to women’s suffrage. 

“Talk about a liberated woman, she was truly that,” Weiss said. 

The book takes place in Tennessee, focusing on the tension bearing down on the state. “Thirty-five states have ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state is needed. It all comes down to Tennessee,” according to the book’s plot summary.

When writing her book, Weiss said she realized that if she “told the story through Tennessee… [she] could then pull back the lens and tell a broader story.” 

Weiss said that her struggles in writing stem from her journalistic background. She was always used to writing under a deadline and found it much harder to do so without a set one and said that she would often bother her editor by giving herself her own deadlines to send things in to be read.

Cep advises potential writers and said that the “best work comes from revision” and that writings are often “not drafted the way they appear in print.”

Weiss relates her writing to today’s election and voting systems and said that with voting “being targeted at parties” and “making trouble for minorities” it makes it harder and all the more important for people to vote.

Junior Jacob Ten Eyck-Stull said that he was fascinated by “the kind of spooky comparison between the need for the suffrage movement historically and the need for women to take the responsibility of voting more seriously in the modern political landscape.” 

Ten Eyck-Stull urges people to vote and said, “It is important [that] everyone who can, should.”

Weiss’s website assures that when she’s not paddling around the Chesapeake Bay or working at her desk that, “she votes in every election.”

To learn more about Weiss and her work, one can visit her website

Cep’s article about Weiss’s book can be found at

For more information about about the upcoming events at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, visit the Literary House events page on the WC website.

Featured Photo caption: Elaine Weiss responding to a question asked by Casey Cep. Photo by Rebecca Kanaskie.

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