“There’s something very compelling about connecting with your ancestors…these are things that happened 100 years ago, and it adds a layer emotionally to life,” says author Violet Snow, speaking about her new book, To March or to Marry, about which she’ll speak and from which she’ll read at the Golden Notebook’s first in person event of 2021, to be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 11 at Nancy’s of Woodstock Artisanal Creamery at the Peterson House in the Bearsville Center, 297 Tinker Street.
The event will also present Snow’s husband Sparrow, reading from his new novel, The Princeton Diary, “kind of an investigation of the novel and what it means. It’s about Kalavakas, a short-term professor at Princeton with writer’s block. He is an atheist who loves doo-wop.”
Snow’s book is a historical novel about the struggles of two women during the nineteen-teens when women sought the right to vote and suffragettes battled in the streets. Wishing to be heard outside of their homes, the two were introduced to Women’s Clubs, which provided a less rowdy, yet still vital outlet for those who seemed locked into domestic lives.
“I found out about Women’s Clubs through my great grandmother’s letters,” says Snow.
“They really inspired me. We were cleaning out my mom’s house — she moved into a retirement home a few years ago — and there was this suitcase of letters in the attic. At first, I just couldn’t look at them, I had done a lot of research about my family recently, and she had saved a lot of other stuff. At some point I started to read them and they were letters my great grandmother had written to her mother after her first child, my grandmother was born. And the letters, they’re all about ‘this is what I did today, and this is the sewing project I’m working on, and I had to do all this cleaning…but I let some of it go because I had to read to get ready to write a paper for the Women’s Club.’ It was a big thing in her life, she mentions it constantly about the women in the club, how one of them had a miscarriage, but she was pregnant again and they’re so happy. She also writes about all the adorable things her daughter did, but mixed in with it is the Club, and it was clear that it was really important in her life.
“There were thousands of clubs around the country. One book said 1.5 million women belonged to clubs in 1916. There’s a directory of New York City Clubs and it’s pages and pages and pages…
“Some of their husbands weren’t happy about it. The first two big clubs started in 1868. One was a professional club, started in New York City by a journalist. She was upset because Charles Dickens came to New York and the Press Club, which was all male, wouldn’t let women come to the reception. When women applied for tickets, the men were like… ‘oh, you don’t want to come, it’s silly, that’s ridiculous, you don’t want to come to the event, it’ll be all male, what are you going to do…’
“And they were so mad, they started their own club.
“That started a movement, and pretty soon there were more and more clubs, and men had to deal with it, ‘my wife going out once a week for three hours, neglecting the house and the baby…’ So some of them had to fight for that, that process changed people’s attitudes about what women were capable of.”
But the Women’s Clubs were “a rather conservative movement compared to the suffragettes. But they were very important because they changed people’s attitudes about women. It was part of a whole progression that was happening in society, the industrial revolution, changing. The clubs really gave women tools to function in the world in business and politics…”
The women in the clubs “wanted to stay ladies. The suffragettes, most of them were upper class, educated, they had time and money and they could say, this is important, we’ve got to have the vote, that’s what society needs. And the Women’s Clubs were more like, well, that’s not very feminine, we’re wives and mothers, we want to change things, we want to make things better for families, we want better education, we want citywide trash collection, we want inspection of milk and meats. They wanted to change society but in this very orderly way because the clubs taught them how to read and research and speak in a group, it had a huge effect. These were mostly middle-class women, so while the suffragettes were out there fighting, there was a kind of quieter revolution going on in the middle class. It was really significant…”
Snow sees the conflict between the Women’s Clubs and the suffrage movement as necessary for the progress that was made.
“When the women’s marches were happening after the 2016 election, there was a lot of disagreement within them and the groups kind of splintered…the black women felt they were not getting enough respect or leadership and they broke away, and people were like ‘ah – women…they’re so disunified, they can’t get organized, they’re fighting with each other.’ But that’s how a movement happens, people disagree with each other. I just felt that it shows how all those different opinions are necessary and so I think there are parallels to what’s happening nowadays. I feel like the clubwomen and the suffragists were both necessary to get women the vote and to make progress. But the clubs were somewhat overlooked historically, nobody knows about them.”
Snow points to one of the women on the cover photo of the book.
“This is (my great-grandmother) Mary Wingebach, who I had written about before, who had worked for a publisher, who had saved all these letters from, at the time, famous writers. It must have been a shock to get married and to suddenly find herself keeping house after having worked in publishing for years…I just think that the club must have been a great outlet for her. And because she had this work experience, which not all the women had, I imagine her being kind of a leader and pushing the club a little bit. It just inspired me about her, and even though she was very conventional in a lot of ways, there was something kind of plucky and determined about her…
“You always fall in love with your characters. Abbie is based on my great grandmother, so of course I was very fond of her. I really got into (the character) Louise, she’s really tough, she’s got to fight for everything. I grew very fond of both of them.
“And the character of Jessie, kind of shows how the clubs affected women, taught them things, showed them what they could do.”
Snow, who was a reporter for Woodstock Times for 17 years and has written other works about her ancestors, will do several readings, one near Boston and one in Wilmington, Delaware, at gatherings of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which still exists after being founded in the 1890s.
Violet Snow and Sparrow will appear and read from their new books at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 11 at Nancy’s of Woodstock Artisanal Creamery at the Peterson House in the Bearsville Center, 297 Tinker Street. Golden Notebook readings are free and open to the public.