I believe this is the first time I’ve ever hosted a costumed friend for Friend Friday; maybe we can start a trend? Nancy B. Kennedy’s outfit not only evokes the suffragette era, her smile speaks to the suffragettes’ hopefulness in undertaking the long battle. As Nancy acknowledges below, her wonderful new book, Women Win the Vote! 19 for the 19th Amendment, illustrated by Katy Dockrill, (Norton Young Readers) is only able to tell part of the female-fight-for-the-vote story. Here’s hoping we can soon celebrate a follow-up, speaking to the battle for the voting rights of Native American, Chinese American, Japanese American and Black women here in the states.
What did you learn in school about the woman’s fight for the vote? Nothing? Neither did I. And yet, here I’ve written a book about it.
A few years ago, I was looking for a book idea. A colleague happened to mention the upcoming centennial of the 19th Amendment in 2020. That’s all it took! I knew that was my next book. Trouble was… it was the next book for, oh, a hundred other writers. I had to find a fresh angle on this historic movement.
The adult market was well covered and I saw plenty of children’s picture books. But I didn’t see many options for the middle grade reader, a young person aged 9-13. And, to boot, I noticed that most books presented the suffragists as fully formed adult activists.
I thought, What if I write about the women starting with their childhoods and early experiences? Delve into what drew them to the suffrage fight. And then — bing! — I thought, 19 heroes of the 19th Amendment.
It was early 2018, but to get a book out by 2020, I had to move fast. I attended a writers conference, where I entered a contest called Pitchapalooza. Imagine something like “American Idol” for writers — you’re given one minute at the microphone in front of (in my case) 200 people and a panel of high-level editors and agents. Can I tell you how far outside my comfort zone this was?
When the contest started, the panelists started pulling names from a hat. They were choosing just 20 of us to pitch. They pulled name after name. 1, 2, 3… not me. 8, 9, 10, not me. 14, 15, 16, still not me. But finally… 18! Me. I walked on shaky legs to the microphone and gave my pitch.
After the pitches, the judges went out to deliberate. Coming back in, one of them leaned into her microphone and said, “And the winner is… N…” I heard that “N” sound and knew I’d won!
Afterward, I went to a one-on-one with an agent, an appointment at which you get a few minutes to pitch again. I told her I’d just won Pitchapalooza. Grabbing my hands, she said, “Now, tell me about your book. What are we going to call it?”
Long story short, I gained my wonderful agent at the conference, and within a few months, we had gotten interest from the major children’s publishers. Norton Young Readers had a fabulous vision for the book, and I jumped on it. I’m so proud to be a Norton author. Although I didn’t learn about the suffragists in school, I sure do remember the Norton anthologies!
The year I spent researching the suffragists was a complete joy. I love every one of them — their diaries, memoirs, letters and speeches reveal vibrant women with hugely appealing personalities.
If I’m given the chance, I’d like to continue the story. Many women were left out of the suffrage victory. Native Americans didn’t become citizens until 1924; Chinese Americans, 1943; Asian-Indians, 1946; and Japanese Americans, 1955. Residents of Washington, DC, couldn’t voted until 1961! In the South, African Americans were threatened, harassed and subjected to literacy tests and poll taxes. But, finally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made discrimination against any citizen illegal.
It’s ironic that in this pandemic year when our place has been confined to the home, we are celebrating three generations of women who fought for their right to break out of the domestic sphere and into public life. And yet, nothing can dim their lights. We all owe a debt of gratitude to these intrepid activists.
Women Win the Vote! 19 for the 19th Amendment released in February 2020 from Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton. A free teachers guide is available on Nancy’ website. https://www.nancybkennedy.com/for-teachers/
Nancy B. Kennedy is a journalist and the author of seven previous books. Before books, she worked in magazines and newspapers, including a stint at Dow Jones, where she edited the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s for online readers. For more information about Nancy and her books, visit her website at www.nancybkennedy.com. She can also be found on twitter (@NB_Kennedy), Instagram (@nbkauthor) and facebook (www.facebook.com/nancybkennedyauthor).
Thanks for hosting me, Kirby! I loved sharing my book’s origin story.