Close up photo of a person holding a book open to read it

Book that brings to life struggle for women’s voting rights is 2020 CWRU common reading selection

The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss tells gripping, cinematic story that makes ratification of 19th amendment seem more suspenseful than fated

The decades-long campaign for women’s suffrage reached a dramatic climax in 1920. By then, activists had won 35 of the 36 states needed to expand the Constitution and prohibit the denial of voting rights based on sex. That summer the battle moved to Tennessee, the likely 36th state, for a fierce and frenetic round.

Elaine Weiss

Award-winning journalist and author Elaine Weiss offers a thrilling account of what happened in the acclaimed narrative non-fiction book, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Viking 2018), which was selected as the 2020 common reading book for Case Western Reserve’s incoming first-year students.

Weiss also is the keynote speaker for the university’s fall convocation on Aug. 26 at 4:45 p.m. Her appearance as the Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author is supported by the Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author Fund, named for the late Cleveland philanthropist, civic activist, arts patron and former member of the university Board of Trustees.    

Given the limitations on mass gatherings, this year, guests are invited to join the program remotely. Details will be available on the fall convocation website.

“The long arc of history may bend toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. said. But that doesn’t mean that justice comes easily,” said Timothy Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion and chair of both the Department of Religious Studies and the university’s Common Reading Selection Committee. “As this remarkable story reminds us, it’s about creative, passionate, collaborative struggle with and within institutions and structures that can seem unshakable.”

Photo of the cover of "The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote," which shows a silhouette of a woman holding a flag

The Woman’s Hour has been hailed for riveting story-telling that turns a century-ago battle into a political thriller with powerful parallels to the current political climate. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television has optioned the rights to the book with Hillary Clinton—the first woman to run for U.S. president on a major party ticket—slated to make her debut as an executive producer. The book also was a source for the recent PBS American Experience: The Vote, which initially appeared earlier in July. Weiss appears as a commentator in the documentary.

“The book grippingly recounts the twists and reversals that took place in the weeks leading up to the suffrage victory,” said The New Yorker magazine, “but it is even more thrilling in its presentation of ideas—both those of the suffragists and those of the people who opposed them.”

The book is so well-paced, The New Yorker continued, “that by the time Weiss reveals the final vote total of 50 ayes and 46 nays, … readers can be forgiven for having forgotten they knew all along that the Nineteenth Amendment was going to be ratified.”

The Woman’s Hour also explores the roots of the women’s movement and the work of early suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others.

“Weiss celebrates their persistence and courage but does not sugarcoat their racism,” said The New York Times book review. “Despite early unity with abolitionists, upper-middle-class white women willing to sacrifice racial equality for gender equality is nothing new.” 

Weiss, a Baltimore-based writer, also is the author of Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army in the Great War, which explores the long-forgotten movement to recruit thousands of women to rural America to take over farm work after men were called to serve in World War I.

Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor, as well as in reports and documentaries for National Public Radio and Voice of America. She’s also a MacDowell Colony Fellow and Pushcart Prize Editor’s Choice honoree.

The common reading selection is part of the First-Year Experience Program, which is committed to helping new students successfully transition from high school to Case Western Reserve. The common reading book is chosen for its potential connections to a range of academic departments, centers and other campus initiatives. Students receive the common reading text to read over the summer.

“As new students join our community during a fall semester like no other,” Beal said, “we hope this common book will provide ways to connect and build relationships, in and out of class.”

For more information, contact Bill Lubinger at