Good Girls Don’t Make History by Elizabeth Kiehner and Kara Coyle

Illustration/Design by Micaela Dawn and Mary Sanche

Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions

A poignant start to this graphic history, a teen waits with her mother in a long line to vote, a reminder that though people have been fighting for full suffrage for more than one hundred years, we still have many obstacles to overcome.

Good Girls Don’t Make History tells the 180 year long struggle for women to vote in the United States. Starting with the denial of women’s participation in the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Society convention, the book travels through time and gives voice to important women who worked tirelessly for full suffrage. Most of us know names like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but this book highlights important women in the movement such as Sojourner Truth who was also active in the abolitionist movement, and Frances Ellen Walker Harper who called out the hypocrisy of many white women suffragettes in speeches and writing in the 1860s. The book does not shy away from the rifts in the suffrage movement.

We are reminded that Victoria Woodhull ran for president in 1871 in an attempt to push the suffrage question. But the meat of the book is in the 20th century, starting with the work of Harriet Stanton and Inez Milholland who roused suffragettes to march on Washington. We see activists like Ida B. Wells and Mary E. Jackson who took action on their own when denied full participation in organizations run by white women. I truly appreciate the full view of this complex history that does not try to claim one big happy family of women, but recognizes the biases and prejudices that impacted the movement.

The authors also take on the rifts caused by differences in tactics during WWI, when some in the movement thought they should put aside the fight. Inspired by the work and sacrifices of women all over the country during the war, one faction of the movement decided they had to continue despite the war. There is never a convenient time to seek justice.

The book isn’t perfect. For example, the conflict between supporters of the 14th Amendment and those in favor of women’s suffrage was given only a quick mention. I think that story can help us to better understand events during Reconstruction as well as continued conflict between social justice groups today. The question of whether we can both recognize a person or group’s accomplishments while at the same time admitting to their mistakes is an important part of our national conversation. Despite some omissions or light touches on some events, I do think this book is an important addition to our schools and libraries to better flesh out what can often feel like an inevitable achievement, too often glossed over in history textbooks and high school classes.

The book ends with a call to action, reminding young readers that there is still work to be done to make sure all women and men have full rights to the vote.