Formidable: American Women and the Fight for Equality: 1920-2020 (Hardcover)
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“An essential history of the struggle by both Black and white women to achieve their equal rights.”—Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Nineteenth Amendment was an incomplete victory. Black and white women fought hard for voting rights and doubled the number of eligible voters, but the amendment did not enfranchise all women, or even protect the rights of those women who could vote. A century later, women are still grappling with how to use the vote and their political power to expand civil rights, confront racial violence, improve maternal health, advance educational and employment opportunities, and secure reproductive rights.
Formidable chronicles the efforts of white and Black women to advance sometimes competing causes. Black women wanted the rights enjoyed by whites. They wanted to protect their communities from racial violence and discrimination. Theirs was not only a women’s movement. White women wanted to be equal to white men. They sought equal legal rights, political power, safeguards for working women and immigrants, and an end to confining social structures. There were also many white women who opposed any advance for any women.
In this riveting narrative, Dr. Elisabeth Griffith integrates the fight by white and Black women to achieve equality. Previously their parallel struggles for social justice have been presented separately—as white or Black topics—or covered narrowly, through only certain individuals, decades, or incidents. Formidable provides a sweeping, century-long perspective, and an expansive cast of change agents. From feminists and civil rights activists to politicians and social justice advocates, from working class women to mothers and homemakers, from radicals and conservatives to those who were offended by feminism, threatened by social change, or convinced of white supremacy, the diversity of the women’s movement mirrors America.
After that landmark victory in 1920, suffragists had a sense of optimism, declaring, “Now we can begin!” By 2020, a new generation knew how hard the fight for incremental change was; they would have to begin again. Both engaging and outraging, Formidable will propel readers to continue their foremothers’ fights to achieve equality for all.
About the Author
Elisabeth Griffith earned her PhD from The American University and an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College. She has been a Kennedy Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and a Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia Teachers College. Dr. Griffith has spent her career working for women’s rights as an activist and an academic, teaching women’s history at the secondary and college level and has written forThe New York Times, The Washington Post, and professional journals. She is currently teaching courses in women’s history at the Smithsonian Associates and Politics & Prose. She is the author of In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which was the inspiration for Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, Not For Ourselves Alone.
"An engaging, relevant and sweeping chronicle of women’s fight for equality in the United States. Books of true feminist history are rare. Rarer still are these histories intersectional; feminist history tends to be synonymous with white women’s history. Not this book. Griffith delivers a multiracial, inclusive timeline of the struggles and triumphs of both Black and white women in America. A profoundly illuminating tour de force."
— New York Times Book Review
"This is an intersectional account of what it has meant to be a woman in America for the past century. Griffith forces us to consider the complexity of women and acknowledge that we have been 'oppressors, progressives, enslaved, activists, adversaries and allies.' Griffith has found the words for us and does an exemplary job of showing how women have always discovered ways to be powerful, regardless of obstacles."
— Connie Schultz
"Formidable is an essential history of the one-hundred-year struggle between 1920 and 2020 by both Black and white women in America to achieve their equal rights. Griffith surveys the successes and setbacks that remained relevant and pressing across the century: voting rights, racial violence, health care, reproductive rights, working conditions, education, race, and gender discrimination, electoral office. Through her comprehensive survey of the people, events, and movements that marked this history, she highlights the women, and men, who were both pushing for change and those who resisted it. The final outcome of that struggle is not yet decided."
— Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Historian Griffith proves herself up to the formidable task she sets forth to achieve in this thorough and thoughtful look at a century of change — which she cautions might seem more radical than it actually is, given how long it’s taken to realize the demands of early feminists of all races. The author gives a great deal of attention to intersectionality and specific identities and interests, taking care to note that the fight doesn’t belong to any one group."
— Bethanne Patrick
“Griffith is a consummate storyteller, combining research and riveting narrative to keep alive the political and social struggle for equal rights by American women front and center. Readers will be caught up in the heroism and resilience of this diverse cast of characters. Griffith magnificently covered the early campaign for suffrage, from Seneca Falls to 1920, in her first book, which helped to make our film about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—Not for Ourselves Alone. Now she carries that story forward to 2020, as Black and white women confront yet another set of obstacles and objectives.”
— Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
"Author and historian Elisabeth Griffith offers an unprecendented survey of the women's suffrage movement that masterfully intertwines two paralle crusades for justice, those of Black and white women. Beginning with the certification of the 19th Amendment and concluding with the 2020 presidential election, Formidable explains the complexities, nuances, and challenges of the fight for women's equality over the last century. Weaving together the separate and sometimes competing aspirations of Black and white women, Griffith provides the missing link in a crucial story of women's rights in contemporary America. Finally, we have one book that brings together American women in their many dimensions and complexities in one informative and compelling narrative."
— Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics & Prose Bookstore, former chief speechwriter to Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Griffith, the author of a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, offers an encyclopedic overview of women’s advocacy for issues they believed crucial to their lives. Griffith follows women’s lives decade by decade, identifying important figures in politics, social movements, popular culture, and the arts who inspired or incited change, from Ida Wells-Barnett to Hilary Clinton, Carrie Chapman Catt to Stacey Abrams. A hefty, thoroughly researched contribution to women’s history."
— Kirkus Reviews
"In Formidable, Elisabeth Griffith relates how American women have approached political activism in the last century. The interplay between racism and sexism, Griffith argues, has also always been central to women’s fight for equality, even before the term “intersectionality” was coined. The women’s movement is a flawed, complex entity that will continue to boost American women far into the future, argues Formidable, an overview of the diversity of American women and their role in political history."
— Foreword Reviews
Historian and women’s-rights activist Griffith (In Her Own Right, 1984) provides an engrossing, extremely detailed survey of the rights women have both gained and lost from 1920 to 2020. This well-researched tome opens with the suffrage movement and runs through the civil-rights era to modern movements such as #MeToo. Women’s rights are examined decade by decade through a myriad of lenses, including political movements, pop-culture representation, civil rights, war, economics, and health care. The formation of united fronts in pursuit of change is delved into, as is the fragmentation of movements as various avenues and causes are pursued, sometimes putting activists at odds. Women of all walks of life and of every race and culture—whether Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, lesbian, working class, or upper class—are examined and extolled in the long fight for women’s rights in America. This is a perfect text for feminists, activists, and readers of history and sociology.