How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea Book Poster Image
Lively story of bold leaders in U.S. suffrage movement.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

How Women Won the Vote is filled with dozens of archival photos of Lucy and Alice, women picketing, speaking at rallies, and being arrested by police, and the 1913 Parade in Washington D.C. (the floats, young marchers, a group of "Homemakers," the enormous crowd lining street). There's a "Timeline of Significant Suffrage Events in US Between 1848 and 1909" and an illustrated look at the things a successful suffrage parade needs, both usual (a committee, money, a parade permit) and not so usual ("elegance and shine" and a herald on a horse). Includes a short "Further Reading for the Young Activists." 

Positive Messages

Reaching a goal doesn't always happen quickly. But if you have patience, determination, creativity, and learn how to work with others, you can make real change in the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While suffragists like Lucy and Alice were dedicated, brave, and unbelievably determined, some of them could also be racist. When Black women applied to join the parade in Washington, they were initially told by Alice they could -- if they marched at the back of the parade. They refused. The author writes that it was a telegram "("Let black women march") from the leadership of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the thought of negative publicity that finally got Alice to change her mind and quietly begin accepting their applications.

Violence & Scariness

It took enormous courage to be a suffragist. If they were arrested, they might be beaten, force-fed, or sent to psychiatric wards. British Police grab women, throw them to the ground and punch, kick, and club them. Men shove, slap, pinch, and spit tobacco juice on parade marchers, while hecklers throw stones, eggs, and rotten fruit at them.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Susan Campbell Bartoletti's How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea focuses on two women and two pivotal events in the struggle to gain American women the right to vote. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns meet in a London police station after being arrested for participating in a suffrage march. When they come back to America, they team up to organize a huge parade the day before the 1913 inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. It would draw thousands of women marchers to Washington D.C. but not change the president's views opposing a woman's right to vote. In 1917, Alice and Lucy join women picketing outside the White House. The picketers are arrested and jailed, but they persist until Wilson finally endorses the 19th Amendment. While their movement was peaceful, suffragists were often treated violently. The book is forthright but never graphic about women being beaten, punched, kicked, clubbed, spat on and force fed by jailers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

HOW WOMEN WON THE VOTE begins in 1909 in a London police station. Among the women under arrest for marching on Parliament to demand the vote for women are two young Americans, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. When they return to America, they continue speaking out for a woman's right to vote and discover they make a great team. In 1912, they come up with a big idea: the largest and best suffrage parade the country has ever seen. It takes place on March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Some 250,000 people line Pennsylvania Avenue to watch, as 5,000 woman along with floats, bands, and mounted brigades prepare to march. But the day turns violent almost as soon as the parade begins. Mobs start attacking the marchers. "Girls," yells Alice, "get out your hat pins." With few police on hand, it's Boy Scouts who come to their rescue and force the attackers back to the curb before the cavalry finally arrives from nearby Ft. Meyer. The parade continues, but its strong message doesn't change the mind of the new president. He's still opposed to women getting the vote. When Wilson's second term begins in 1917, Alice and Lucy join the women who've begun picketing outside the White House. In June, police begin arresting the picketers. They're sent to jail and to a workhouse and often beaten by guards. Lucy has her hands shackled to an overhead iron bar, Alice is sent to a psychiatric ward, and both are force-fed by guards. But as soon as picketers are released, they come back to the street outside the White House. In January 1918, Wilson announces he's changed his mind. The women have won. Congress goes onto pass the 19th Amendment giving vote to women, and after being ratified by 36 states, it becomes law in August 1920.

Is it any good?

This lively and engaging look at final years of the suffrage movement has its heroes but doesn't shy away from exposing racism that existed in the movement. The bright colors and dozens of archival photos in How Women Won the Vote will bring the story alive even for the most reluctant readers of history books. Many of the photos give readers a real sense of "being there" -- a tired-looking Alice jailed in a workhouse, women waving to supporters from their prison cell windows, Inez Milholland astride the white horse she rode at the head of the parade, women picketing outside the White House on a cold winter day.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the qualities they most admire in the women whose stories are told in How Women Won the Vote. Is there someone you know (a family member, friend, or teacher) who has some of these same qualities?

  • Are there ways you think girls and women are still being treated as second class citizens? What do you think should be done about it?

  • If you organized a parade in support of a cause, what would it be? What kind of things would you want in your parade --  floats, banners, animals? How would you promote your parade?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biographies and voting stories

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate