Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Oct. 25, 2022

Women and the Vote: an Interview with Catskills Novelist Violet Snow

Women and the Vote: an Interview with Catskills Novelist Violet Snow

Catskills writer Violet Snow is the author of To March or to Marry, an historical novel about the lengthy fight for a woman's right to vote, both here in New York, and nationally. As we prepare to cast our ballots in 2022, it's hard to imagine that just over 100 years ago, women were excluded from that process. In this episode of Kaatscast, I talk with Violet Snow about the inspiration for her novel, and the fictional characters that she placed in a very non-fictional time and place preceding women's suffrage in 1920.

If you'd like to buy a copy of Violet's book, we recommend Briars & Brambles Books, right here in Windham, NY. Thanks also to the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce and the Mountain Eagle for their support of this podcast!


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Violet Snow  0:03  
Politics was sort of dirty with like men's work that was considered like, too rough for women. And of course, there was also the concept that you know, women were somehow intellectually like children and didn't have the capacity to make judgments.

Brett Barry  0:21  
Catskills writer Violet Snow is the author of to march or to marry an historical novel about the fight on many fronts for a woman's right to vote, both here in New York and nationally. As we prepare to cast our ballots in 2022. It's hard to imagine that just over 100 years ago, women were excluded from that process. On today's Kaatscast, I talked with violet snow, about the inspiration for her novel and the fictional characters that she sent in a very nonfictional time and place leading up to women's suffrage in 1920. Kaatscast is sponsored by the central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, providing services to businesses, community organizations and local governments in the central Catskills region. Follow the central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook, and sign up for a weekly email of local events at Centralcatskills.org. And by the mountain Eagle, covering Delaware green and schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham weekly schoharie news and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email, mountainEaglenews@gmail.com. And now, my conversation at our Kaatscast studio with author Violet Snow. Welcome violet to the podcast. I I'm not much of a fiction reader. And I don't read historical fiction. My wife reads a ton of it. That said, I enjoyed every page of this book. Oh, it was great. I really did. I learned a lot about women's suffrage about anti suffrage, which I didn't know was a thing among women, about the illegality of basic birth control in the early 1900s laws and historical figures that never made it into my textbooks. And all of this through the intertwined narratives of the two main characters. So can you tell me a bit about Louise and Abby and how you came up with them?

Violet Snow  2:27  
Well, basically, I was watching the State of the Union address, and Donald Trump was speaking and all the Democratic Congress, women were dressed in white, and sitting together and I thought, Oh, I could write a historical novel about suffrage, that would be this is now a good time for that. So a lot of women's issues in the news. And I thought, well, but what's the what's the premise gonna be what's the conflict, and then I thought of my great grandmother, who belonged to a women's club, in the Bronx in the early 1900s. And I had found out that she belong to a club through, you know, different mentions in letters of hers that I had. And then I've done some research, and I discovered that the Women's Club movement was a huge movement, from like, the 1868, to about 1920. When suffrage was finally achieved, but they were not formed to support the vote, in fact, a lot of them were kind of, against soft, not against suffrage, necessarily, but not in favor of marching around and making a fuss, you know, like they were, they were middle class women, they were pretty conservative. They just wanted to get out of their house. And some of them wanted to study literature and art and, and other groups had social reform ideas, they were generally a little more progressive. But in any case, my great grandmother's participation in this group was clearly really important to her life, like Abby in the book, who is is based on her. She had been a secretary for a publisher for over 10 years, he worked for Dodd Mead and company, and, you know, it must have been a shock to her to get married and not be able to be around the public and interesting people, writers. And so it just made a lot of sense to me that she got involved with a women's club and it was one of the the literary clubs and in her letters, it's just clear that it was very important to her so but I just thought there was, for one thing, there was a tension between the clubs and the suffragettes even though they were both feminist organizations. And I, so I thought, you know, two characters club woman and a suffragette. They're best friends, and they have a falling out, because one of them becomes more of a suffragette. So that's a great plot, right? Because they keep trying to come back together. And then circumstances keep sending them apart because of their differing views on the world. But Louise is totally fictional.

Brett Barry  5:18  
You sent me some quotes from the daily Freeman from the 19 teens. One of them was from 1914, was an editorial by Mrs. Joseph Stoddard in opposition to women's suffrage. She said that the suffragists are dangerous because of their alliance with socialism, with its undermining and destructive qualities and feminism bristling with domestic anarchy. And, you know, when I went to the daily Freeman, just this morning to see if I could search their archives, the front page of today's Freeman says assembly candidates square off about socialism. So some of the same fears surfacing 100 years later. And I found that throughout your book, that a lot of the issues that you discuss, are still being discussed, or are being re-discussed, after many years, things like birth control, and what a woman can or cannot do with her own body. That came up quite a bit. And I thought that that was interesting. And you wrote this before that kind of blew up again this year.

Violet Snow  6:17  
Yeah, right. Well, I mean, these are critical issues for women, you know, because of procreation, which happens within our bodies. That's a very important issue for us, you know, whether we have control over that, and that doesn't change, unfortunately, men's attitudes about it can often change. I mean, of course, you know, the whole, far right wing has has taken up a stance against abortion. But most of the time, it's, you know, men trying to tell us what to do. And it's very disturbing. And so I was interested, as I was doing my research that Margaret Sanger kept coming up. And I realized that for my great grandmother, that could well have been an issue. Because, you know, she had her twins were born, you know, a year and a half after her first child. So it just made sense that that was going to be an important part of the story. 

Brett Barry  7:18  
If I knew anything about Margaret Sanger, it was very little before I read this book, you know, I learned that she had this publication called The Woman Rebel, is that right? And women and men at that time were were under the laws of what was called the Comstock Act, which prohibited the distribution or I guess the the mailing of lewd or indecent materials, but lewd and indecent materials included, education about basic things like birth control, and not we're not even talking abortion here, we're talking about things like condoms being illegal in the early 1900s, which I didn't even know. So there were a lot of really shocking, interesting kind of subplots and things that were all very much rooted in history that I wasn't aware of.

Violet Snow  8:02  
Yeah, Margaret Sanger nowadays is a controversial figure because she later in life, she got into eugenics and you know, there was a whole there was a racist component to what was going on with her. But in the early days, she you know, she came from a family of nine children, and she watched it, you know, wear her mother down and and she just decided she was never going to do that. But she just started researching at some point, birth control, and she went to Europe where, you know, people weren't as puritanical when she found out what people did to stop from having babies that they didn't want. And she just made it her mission to overturn the Comstock law, basically, which meant civil disobedience meant, you know, getting arrested, going to court, trying to publicize how unfair the whole stance of the Comstock Act was. And, and she did it, she succeeded. I mean, she was really courageous. And she kind of did it single handedly, was pretty, she's an amazing, amazing character. 

Brett Barry  9:14  
And all of these plotlines in real life intersected because women felt that if they could vote, they would be able to elect people who would represent them and the issues they cared about. So knowledge of birth control was not something that a male elected government was going to do anything about. So that was, it's, it's all very much related. Which brings me back to my curiosity about the women who were anti suffrage and suffrage just means the right to vote, but we're talking of course of women's suffrage, which was very much an issue in the early 20th century. And you had another quote here from the daily Freeman. I think it was the same editorial. One never knows when a woman will go down under the strain of continuous responsibility, meaning she has family matters that are weighing on her. So how could you possibly be trusted to make political decisions? Or even to go out and vote for somebody?

Violet Snow  10:16  
Right? Well, okay, I know it's hard to imagine. But that was a woman who wrote that, yeah. Okay, so we're talking about the period of the Industrial Revolution, women have gone from being rural farm women very involved in running a farm, you know, economically and socially, to now they're just now their husbands are out working, and they're at home, taking care of the house. And they're very indoctrinated in the idea that, that women were gentle and loving, and caring, and taking care of other people. Politics was sort of dirty was like men's work, that was considered like, too rough for women. And of course, there was also the concept that, you know, women were somehow intellectually like children, and didn't have quite the capacity to make judgments. And so a lot of women bought into that. And, and in a way, it was their security, like, like, a lot of the antis were rich women. And you know, they had very comfortable lives. And what were they going to give up, if suddenly, their husbands saw them differently or didn't want to take care of them in the same way, I mean, they had a lot to lose. Whereas the middle class, women just saw it as well, we're going to prove that we have this intellectual capacity, it's like through the women's clubs. And so like that was enough for them. But then when they did get into social issues, as most of them did, and they realized that if they wanted to change things like universal kindergarten, or city wide garbage collection, or inspection of milk, and meat, these were issues that mothers and wives were particularly concerned about. So it was appropriate for them to bring up these topics. But if they couldn't get legislators to listen to them, then they gradually realized that it was a good idea for women to have the vote. In fact, the general Federation of women's clubs, which is a national organization, finally, in 1914, you know, six years before we got the vote, they decided to support women's suffrage.

Brett Barry  12:35  
And there was this national push, and then there were also pushes in each state. And in the book, there's a bit of ambivalence about which one you're going to go with, because a lot of the people who were working on the state level didn't think that it was worth pushing nationally, because it's never going to happen. And so, you know, I didn't realize or I guess, I never made the connection that suffrage became legal in various degrees in individual states before it was ever ratified in the Constitution.

Violet Snow  13:03  
Yeah, I mean, who knew? Right? Like, we don't remember that. But Susan B. Anthony, wrote the amendment to give women suffrage and she was fighting for that. And every year, her organization would try to present it to Congress and get it onto the agenda. And every year it failed. So at some point, the National American Women's Suffrage organization Association, that group decided it wasn't worth the effort. In 1869, Wyoming, granted suffrage to women. And several other states, when they came into the Union did the same thing. And so at some point, the suffragists realized, Oh, we might have more success if we focused on the states. And so they did that for a long time until Alice Paul came along and said, No, this isn't going to work. We've got it. We've got to go for a national amendment.

Brett Barry  14:00  
It's interesting that you mentioned the new states granting it as part of their establishment because I'm looking at the map of the states that suffrage was legal before it was on a national scale. It's a lot of the kind of Western Mountain States were you wouldn't think today, that they would be the first ones to jump on that. But because they were newly established, I guess it was just baked in.

Violet Snow  14:20  
Well, yeah. I mean, women were pioneers, you know, women were alongside men kind of taming the wilderness, you know, or whatever you want to look at it. It was like being on a farm, you know, like you had to, you know, they worked hard at what they were doing, and they were equal partners with men in a lot of ways. And so they they just had a different perspective than, you know, the eastern states which were more conservative, socially.

Brett Barry  14:47  
That same map shows just before it became national. New York is the only state on the Eastern Seaboard that had full suffrage. Some states in the in the country had, you know, women could vote For school or some states, just you could vote in primaries or municipal elections. So when did it become legal in New York for women to vote? And how much later was it nationally?

Violet Snow  15:14  
I'm pretty sure it was 1917 When women got the vote in New York, which is pretty late. I mean, it's 1869 and Wyoming. So, so 1920 was when the last states ratified the amendment, but it took a long time. I mean, in I think it was 1915, there was a referendum in New York State, and it failed. And it was just devastating. You know, they had to start over again,

Brett Barry  15:45  
you sent me an article from The Daily Freeman again, keeping it local, November 7 1917. The headline is New York doubles number of voters, the great state of New York, a woke state to find nearly 2 million new voters within its borders, women's suffrage has won in New York after 69 years of continuous efforts since the first women's suffrage convention was held in the US. So go New York, but still, it seems like really, our history.

Violet Snow  16:11  
Well, you know, attitudes are very entrenched, and the country was changing, you know, the Industrial Revolution was changing everything. But attitudes change more slowly. It just takes a long time. It's, it's discouraging, isn't it? But it just shows how much can be accomplished with persistence over a long period of time. You know, it's like a big ship, turning, it takes a long time between applying the brakes and the actual turn of the ship. So we just have to keep at it.

Brett Barry  16:47  
Let's talk a little bit about the book, you said that the idea for it came during Trump era State of the Union. So you put this together pretty quickly, how did you research it? And where did you go for your information?

Violet Snow  17:00  
Well, I had these letters of my great grandmother's, so they gave me a lot of clues and directions. Most of my research was just online, or through books I got from a Libris for you know, $5 You know, there's a lot of old books, like, you know, the history of the Bronx, published in something like 1898 or something it was, like, a lot they reprinted you know, so basically books, and there's a lot of websites, and I did go also to the New York Historical Society in Manhattan, and they had some original stuff on anti suffrage and like a little booklet of like, for suffragists, just like how to reply to anti suffrage arguments. That was really interesting. And a whole folder of clippings about this particular parade, the nighttime Parade, which there's really, strangely nothing about it online, except for a blog post from the New York Historical Society. But then I went and looked at the articles and it was really fascinating. It's crazy parade at night with torches and lanterns.

Brett Barry  18:15  
Yeah. And the women were scared. This was so chapter 11. In your book, you document this march that happened in New York City. I mean, apprehension among the suffragettes because there was quite a bit of nighttime violence in the city and the impropriety of a woman just being out at night. How similar or different is this book from other things that you've written?

Violet Snow  18:37  
Okay, so I just mostly write about whatever I'm obsessed with at the moment. I've written like, maybe nine novels with this as the only one that's made it into print. When I was an herbalist and doing primitive skills, that's, you know, I wrote a couple of novels about, you know, after the apocalypse, and people are living off the land. I recently wrote a kind of spiritual novel that my obsession with spiritual practice, which I'm almost ready to try to get published, and now that I'm working with horses, I'm writing a young adult novel about horses.

Brett Barry  19:16  
All right, I have a question for you. And we might have to drop this. I don't know if it's going to make the final cut. But I flipped to the copyright page. This book is copyright 2021 by violet snow, and then in parentheses, Ellen Carter. That's my real name. So how did Violet Snow come about Oh, okay. Is it ok That we put Ellen Carter on the podcast. 

Violet Snow  19:34  
Yeah. Okay, so I was in my 30s. I started writing poetry. I was getting it published. But my ex husband's last name was mud and I didn't really want to publish as Ellen mud. But I didn't want to go back to my maiden name. So I decided to make up a name. And that was the name I came up with just the flower, the color the contrast of colors. And my husband Sparrow said, Oh, that sounds like a romance novelist. So I didn't use it for a long time, but I can't believe I let Sparrow talk.

Brett Barry  20:15  
I assume That's not his given either. No. In a moment, our conversation continues. But first, a message from Briars and brambles books. The go to independent book and gift store in the Catskills where you can get your very own copy of Violet Snow's to march or to Mary available now. Briars and brambles books is located in Windham New York right next to the pharmacy just steps away from the Windham path open daily. For more information, visit Briarsandbramblesbooks.com or call 518-750-8599. So getting back to Louise and Abby the main characters in your book and they had a bit of a falling out because one was in a traditional women's club, which was more traditional female roles. And the other one Louise went pretty fully down the suffragette path, which was much more liberal route and new ideas for what women should be or do. And then in chapter 23, I was excited because the Catskills was the name of that chapter I knew we'd get here at some point in the book. And in that chapter, again, kind of history repeating itself. You have this massive new york city people coming up here to avoid a tuberculosis epidemic, just like we recently experienced with lots of people coming up during the COVID pandemic. The two of them Abby and Louise, if I'm not giving too much information here they they reconnect for a bit on a boat on the Hudson River. They both happen to be headed into the Catskills. So tell me a little bit about the inspiration for the Catskills chapter and some of your own family history playing into that

Violet Snow  21:58  
my great grandmother, Mary, Wingebach started going to the Catskills in 1922. I have a letter that she wrote to her husband, he was working in the Bronx, and she was saying, Oh, I liked this place a lot called Winter clove. It's a place that our family has been going to since then Mary brought her children and my grandmother brought my mother and my aunt and when I was a kid growing up in Poughkeepsie, my my parents had moved north from the city. And we would go there to winter club every summer. And that was, it's why I'm in the Catskills, because it was idyllic, there was always like, got away from my parents, but I was safe and free and could run around the place and play with my cousins. And so I just wanted to kind of honor that. Plus, I just was very interesting when I started researching the day liners that would land at Catskill. I was fascinated. They were enormous. These boats with lounges and concerts, and all sorts of things going on, and cafes and snack bars. And it was just amazing. So I thought, Oh, I have to have a chapter that brings in the day liner and the sojourn in the mountains, because anybody could afford to get out of the city in the summers. It wasn't specifically seen as an epidemic, I don't think in the sense of that the COVID pandemic was but every summer so anybody who could afford to get out of the city would do it. And so I thought deserved to be part of this story.

Brett Barry  23:43  
And this place that you went to as a kid, is that still around?

Violet Snow  23:46  
Yeah, it's still there. It's a flourishing as far as I can tell. Where's it in roundtop, which is outside of Cairo, in Greene County,

Brett Barry  23:55  
and roundtop is the same place that Louise and Abby wind up. Yeah. Coincidentally, yeah. After that trip, and if I'm giving away too much, let me know. But Abby, and other characters who had until that point, kept an arm's length from women's suffrage activities, they have a much harder time staying out of it because their close friends are caught up in some rather extreme legal challenges. There's prison sentences, there's hunger strikes, and all these things really did happen in history. It was really a lot of sacrifice and hardship that these women went through to get us where we are today.

Violet Snow  24:31  
Right. Well, well Alice Paul, who was was leading the fight for the National amendment had been in Britain kind of steady kind of training with the Pankhurst Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters who were really radical, you know, fighting for suffrage in England, and she brought back a lot of their techniques like the hunger strike, she had been on hunger, strike with them and been force fed and she just felt like this is the way to go. You know, if you women are willing to do it, we're gonna do it. And so that's what they did. They picketed the White House and they got arrested for obstructing the sidewalk, supposedly. And it was pretty embarrassing for the administration, when the news got out about how they were treated when they were when they were being forced fed. And in many cases, they were upper class women, they weren't used to this kind of thing. And they did it, they were so determined that they were willing to put up with it. Of course, Wilson, when he started supporting suffrage, didn't give them any credit. He said, it was because of the war because women had proven themselves for war work. But it's hard to believe that it wasn't pretty embarrassing. And there was a worry that these radical methods would decrease support for the suffrage organizations. And some women did quit the organizations because they thought that this was going too far to be picketing the White House during World War One. But it turned out many other women joined the organization as a result, and a lot of donations flowed in. And so it's clear that it had a big effect on how people saw women and their capacities and their determination to get the vote.

Brett Barry  26:29  
What do you know about the men's league for women's suffrage? I would imagine that they weren't called suffragettes. But there were male supporters, what do you know about them?

Violet Snow  26:38  
The head of the men's league that's mentioned in the book was the husband of a very prominent suffragette, you know, they were wealthy. And I guess there were some men who just understood they had strong wives, they were willing to marry strong women. And so they were open to the idea that women could vote could be politically active, had the wherewithal to make valid decisions about voting, my great grandfather was pretty, you know, in favor of his wife going to women's clubs, he would babysit when she went No. So there were men, I would say probably they were younger men of the period, and not the older ones. They had come of age at a time, when women were starting to get more into public life, some of them were working, like my great grandmother had a job, and they were just more open. So I guess there were men who decided they should support women's desire to vote,

Brett Barry  27:40  
it wasn't so black and white. So not every woman was in favor of suffrage, women's suffrage, and not every man was against it.

Violet Snow  27:47  
Right. And, and even within the movement, there was a lot of division, some people felt that there should should be a lot of radical action, and others were like, No, we just have to be systematic and go door to door. And, and they both had their strengths. They both contributed to the process. And the women's clubs, even though they seem very conservative compared to the suffrage organizations, they had their role too, they change people's attitudes about women, just through their activities without, you know, saying we have to have the vote. So I think within any movement, a lot of times, we complain about how movements are fragmented, and certainly they end up fighting each other at times. But at the same time, it's important to recognize that we need a plurality of views, even when we're trying to achieve a particular goal. Sometimes it takes a lot of different viewpoints and different ideas. And that was one thing I really learned from writing the book was seeing how important that was and how, you know, the women's movement wasn't just the suffragists. It was the women's clubs and the birth control movement and the settlement houses and you know, which created jobs for women and created the whole profession of social work, because they were trying to work with poor people. So I just think that that's an important thing for us to think about.

Brett Barry  29:18  
What comparisons can be made between what women and men were fighting for 100 years ago, and what they're fighting for today? Are there similar issues? Or do you think that there's the same driving passions or reticence among others? How much does history really repeat itself through the lens of your experience with this book?

Violet Snow  29:39  
Well, women have the vote and we're definitely not going to go back. The whole abortion issue seems to be spilling over into a birth control issue. That is certainly repeating itself and that is very troubling. You know, women's role in society is just I guess it's going to be debated for a really long time. genders are tricky, and how they express themselves. But, you know, some things have really changed. I mean, in this time period that I'm writing about 1911 to 1918, there was one female Congress person. And now look at how many there are. So I mean, some things have definitely changed. I mean, of course, also just the issue of, you know, how much are we going to support poor people? You know, at the time, the situation was, we had imported all these immigrants to work in the factories of the Industrial Revolution. And these people were very poor, because they were being really exploited. Well, now that's been all exported, all the people being exploited by the industrialists are in Indonesia and Burkina Faso. So that's still happening. It's just not happening here. And we still have to deal with it because we're becoming a global village. And some of these issues just don't go away. Because there's always going to be differences in income, and there's going to be exploitation and how do we deal with that?

Brett Barry  31:24  
According to the 2020 census, 68.4% of women voted, and 65% of men voted. Do you think that just that the suffragettes would be happy to know that women outweigh the male vote? Or would they be disappointed that 32% of women are still not voting?

Violet Snow  31:50  
Well, probably both, you know, the, the National American Women's Suffrage Association kind of morphed into the League of Women Voters after the amendment was passed, because they wanted to encourage women to vote, get women registered to vote. And they also wanted to inform women about the issue so they could make a choice, you know, a valid choice. And at first women didn't vote in such large numbers. It was it was a big transition. Even Even women who wanted the right to vote didn't necessarily feel that brave about voting. But yeah, I think that they would be glad to know that that has changed that a lot more women vote than used to vote, but still, they would want all of us to vote. That's my guess.

Brett Barry  32:49  
Thanks to Violet Snow and to our sponsors, the central Catskills, Chamber of Commerce, the mountain Eagle, and briars and brambles books. Kaatscast is a biweekly production of silver hollow audio, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, or listen at kaatscast.com. I'm Brett Barry. Don't forget to vote. And we'll see you again in two weeks.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai / AA