A suffrage gateway book for young readers: Suffrage Bookshelf
By Tara Bloyd
Part of the popular and lucrative American Girl empire, Meet Samantha takes place in 1904. The book’s synopsis says “It’s 1904. Samantha Parkington, an orphan, lives in her rich grandmother’s household. Grandmary has many servants, but there is no one for Samantha to play with. When a servant girl named Nellie moves in next door, the two girls become fast friends, though their lives are quite different. Samantha turns to Nellie for help in solving a mystery at Grandmary’s, but then Nellie encounters an even bigger problem of her own.”
The book doesn’t directly discuss suffrage, but does give a (somewhat sanitized) view of what life was like for women and girls in the early 1900s. Because the main character is a sheltered, wealthy orphan, we read as much about stitching a sampler as we do about more challenging topics. Racism is only hinted at, when Samantha discusses why their family seamstress has to live in “the colored part of town;” the answer, provided by her friend Nellie, is that “It’s just the way grownups do things.”
Suffrage is not discussed directly in the body of the book, but is mentioned in the historical information in the back. In those six pages, we learn more about society’s expectations of women and girls, the options poor people had, and how “modern women” wanted other choices — including the right to vote. There’s also a nice picture of a suffrage march.
So why did I review this book? Two main reasons, really. First, it popped up when I did a library search for suffrage. And second, as one of the wildly-popular American Girl books, it might be the first exposure many girls have to the history of the movement. It’s not an amazingly fact-filled book, but it could end up as a “gateway book” to interest readers in the movement.
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