Book Review: Dear America: A Time for Courage, The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen (Washington, D.C. 1917) by Kathryn Lasky

courageKat is a fourteen-year-old girl living in Washington, D.C. in the year of the picket lines for women’s suffrage. While Kat’s father, a doctor, is more progressive and generally accepting of Kat’s mother’s picketing and women’s rights activism, Kat’s Uncle Bayard is a harsh tyrant to his own wife (also a suffragette) and family, and is quite unsympathetic to the cause. Eventually, Kat’s dear cousin and best friend Alma runs away from the hostile environment of her family and flees to England to assist as a nurse’s assistant in the Great War. To make matters worse, the peaceful picketers go from being heckled and treated unfairly to being assaulted, injured, arrested, and imprisoned, right in front of the White House, all while President Wilson turned a blind eye, as he was more occupied with the Great War instead of half of the American population– women– on the homefront. It is shocking to read this book and realize how much has changed in less than 100 years as I write this now. It is appalling the way the suffragettes were brutally and unjustly mistreated and denied their basic rights in our country, including freedom of speech and the right for peaceful demonstration.

This book was well-written in the way that, despite all of the historical events, we get a strong feel for Kat’s character, her otherwise ordinary life and schooling, her hobbies, and her– at times juvenile, yet understandable– fears and concerns. This book is also just as much a book about women’s suffrage as it is about World War I, which I quite appreciated in its historical accuracy. Very apropos for me to have read it when I did (Sept. 2011), for at this time women were just granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabia.