“Having courageously navigated the patriarchal waters of her religious community and beyond, April Young Bennett is a seasoned and articulate voice for women’s equality. Her feminist activism, like her writing, remains consistently clear, intelligent, engaging and informed.”
—Lorie Winder Stromberg, Co-founder, Equal in Faith; Executive Board Member, Ordain Women
April Young Bennett is a writer and the host of a podcast entitled Religious Feminism Podcast. She is a feminist and an activist who advocates “for women, children and underserved populations.” As the title of the book suggests, it explores the first generation of American suffragists in the 1830s through the 1860s, who inspired the new generations. The book links feminists of today and of yesterday by placing 19th-century activism “in the context of the present-day, ongoing struggle for equality.” It “channels the first generation of American feminists as exemplars and advisors as we seek modern solutions” (booktopia.com.au). The book is organized chronologically and thematically by exposing a question by chapter, such as “how can we make our voices heard?” or “is religion compatible with a feminist movement?”
In the 1830s, the idea of equality for women was a new one. The struggles of feminism are entangled with other struggles such as the abolition of slavery, the fight for the expansion of educational and professional opportunities for women, the struggle for racial justice, and temperance. (Bennett, April Young. « Ask a Suffragist: Stories and Wisdom from America’s First Feminists. » Last Modified October 1, 2019. https://askasuffragist.com/coming-spring-2019-americas-first-feminists/.)The book brings topics such as the field of medicine concerning women’s practice, religion, men’s place in the feminist movement or art within the framework of first-wave feminism. April Y. Bennett uses many historical letters, speeches, and newspapers to feed her argumentation.
As suggested by the cover of the book, which represents Frances Ellen Watkins Harper—a famous feminist and abolitionist—women of color played a vital role in first-wave feminism. April Y. Bennett also included white women, who were crucial in this crusade as well—such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony. Women were not the only ones who played a part in this first wave since men, such as Frederick Douglass or William Lloyd Garrison, supported it as well.
She justifies the use of the term « suffragist » instead of « suffragette » in an interview by explaining that at the time of first-wave feminism the term « suffragette » referred to British rather than American activism (Bennett, April Young. « Ask a Suffragist: Stories and Wisdom from America’s First Feminists. » Last Modified October 1, 2019. https://askasuffragist.com/coming-spring-2019-americas-first-feminists/.)
The book synthesizes the history of first-wave feminism. It highlights and celebrates the diversity of the figures of this first wave. Moreover, it explains very well how these figures did not always agree on the ways to achieve their goals.
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