When the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment was commemorated in 2020, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were often the focus of museum exhibits, teach-outs, and scholarly works. Highlighting the queerness of the movement was rarely the narrative. But Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (NYU Press, 2022) insists that a narrow focus on cisgender heterosexual woman erases the existence and importance of queer suffragists – and how their transgressive notions of gender and sexuality impacted the suffrage movement. Hiding queerness reinforced a “patriarchal, cisheteronormative standard of ideal womanhood and manhood in order to make suffragists and women’s suffrage more palatable to voters.” Yet queerness was central to the history of the suffrage movement. Dr. Wendy L. Rouse not only recovers the lives of individual queer suffragists, she queers the history of the women’s suffrage movement as a whole. Her work emphasizes the complex ways in which suffragists balanced their principled beliefs in wider social reforms with a form of strategic, respectability politics. In order to contribute to a process of recovery, her book forcefully examines the manner in which historical processes have led to the erasure of queerness in the history of the suffrage movement and the consequences of that erasure.
Dr. Wendy L. Rouse is a historian whose research focuses on the history of gender and sexuality in the Progressive Era. She is presently Professor of History at San Jose State University where she is the program coordinator for the History/Social Science Teacher Preparation Program.
Susan Liebell is Dirk Warren '50 Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.