New York City’s elite women who turned a feminist cause into
a fashionable revolution
In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York's most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names—Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney and the like—carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day because of the extravagance of their costume balls and the opulence of the French couture clothes, and they leveraged their social celebrity for political power, turning women's right to vote into a fashionable cause.
Although they were dismissed by critics as bored socialites “trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris,” these gilded suffragists were at the epicenter of the great reforms known collectively as the Progressive Era. From championing education for women, to pursuing careers, and advocating for the end of marriage, these women were engaged with the swirl of change that swept through the streets of New York City.
Johanna Neuman restores these women to their rightful place in the story of women’s suffrage. Understanding the need for popular approval for any social change, these socialites used their wealth, power, social connections and style to excite mainstream interest and to diffuse resistance to the cause. In the end, as Neuman says, when change was in the air, these women helped push women’s suffrage over the finish line.
Thisflowing account of women, whose financial contributions, celebrity, style, and innovative strategies revitalized a cause and changed history, will be welcomed by all readers.
First impressions, 'that unconscious cue that forms a feeling or opinion.' Fashion, style, dress, all non-verbal signals to society about ones social status, occupation or heritage. Dr. Neuman brilliantly explores how the doyennes of Americas elite used their wardrobe and homes to lure a movement and promote an ideology. These political socialites made the Red Carpet their runway for the cause of womens suffrage and promote a fashionable trend under the label 'Votes for Women Campaign.
Norine Fuller,Executive Director, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, FIDM
In this fast-paced and important book, Johanna Neuman reminds us of the enormous mobilizations--the rallies and speeches and campaignsthat women of all classes engaged in to build one of the most consequential social movements in American history. Elite women from New York City, Neuman emphasizes, played a central role in these mobilizations. They entered the political fray at considerable risk and used their resources, influence and cultural capital to move the nation towards equal voting rights.
Sven Beckert,author of Monied Metropolis
Setting the record straight on the driving forces in the early-20th-century fight for women's suffrage . . . Neuman counters the popular opinion that these women were merely bored socialites trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris," and she makes a solid case . . . Neuman concisely explains how thesegildedwomen have been airbrushed out of history, resented by those who felt exploited, but thankfully, they succeeded, and women vote today because of them.
Imagine, if you will, you've managed an invitation to a society event in Gilded Age Manhattan. In her compelling study of personality and social power, Johanna Neuman introduces you to the women in the room, all fashionable, most wealthy beyond imagination, and yet all politically powerless. These are not the women we think of as leaders in the fight for women's right to vote, yet here they are in this fascinating study, dressed to the nines, disarming to the patriarchy, and determined. Both socialites and activists, they shaped an age when fashion and celebrity became weapons of radical change.
Marc Pachter,Director Emeritus, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
With its rollicking narratives of determined personalities and rancorous barbs, Gilded Suffragists makes the story of winning woman suffrage encompass the several determined and super-wealthy New York women whose leadership, social cachet and fashionable presence injected new liveliness and power into the movement at crucial junctures.
Nancy F. Cott,Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University