Voices without Votes: Women and Politics in Antebellum New England

Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray

University of New Hampshire Press/University Press of New England 2010

Based on meticulous and original archival research involving over 2,000 letters and diaries by about 450 women, this study definitively shows that despite contemporary “woman’s sphere” prescriptions advising them to stay out of public affairs, a number of New England women in the antebellum era amply demonstrated political consciousness and proffered partisan opinions with little social reprobation for having overstepped their “proper” role.

Voices without Votes rescues the “voices” of these women who, though barred from voting, nevertheless thought and acted in a deeply political manner. This long-awaited volume offers a startling counter to the traditional view that antebellum politics was solely a man’s world.

The book won the 2011 Everett Lee Hunt Award of the Eastern Communication Association for "provid[ing] a major contribution to the understanding of rhetoric and communication...."  A paper based on the book, "I Have Said My Say: Ordinary Women and Partisan Speech Making in the Antebellum Era," was awarded the National Communication Association Public Address Division's Wrage-Baskerville Prize for top contributed paper in November 2010.


“Ronald and Mary Zboray have established themselves as premier scholars in the closely related fields of reader reception studies and the history of the book, and their latest project is yet another major contribution. Voices without Votes challenges a long-standing conviction about antebellum readers, demonstrating that women not only read newspapers with the same enthusiasm as their male counterparts, but also identified with the partisan politics that filled their pages.”

—Mary Kelley, Ruth Bordin, Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan


“With the stunning scholarship presented in Voices without Votes, the Zborays have rewritten antebellum women’s history by retrieving the words and deeds of disfranchised women who were nonetheless actively engaged in American political life. The news here is startling, but rings with the truth of complexity, reminding us that it is the job of historians to complicate accepted notions of the past. The Zborays succeed magnificently.”

—Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism


"Voices without Votes succeeds as an engaging social history, bringing to life the many voices, actions, and aspirations of antebellum women who strongly identified with partisan politics.  The Zborays provide impressive evidence of women's political engagement, and their efforts will undoubtedly inspire further studies highlighting the central roles played by women and gender in American political life."

—Lucia McMahon, H-SHEAR


"The Zborays have produced another high-quality study that makes an important contribution to our knowledge about the Second Party System and about the experience of American women who lived in that period. It is an important work that should be in the library of any historian of the
nineteenth century."

—Debra van Tuyll, JHistory reviewer