‘The Voice that Won the Vote’ is a true story about Febb Burn, who, in 1920, helped convince her son, a lawmaker in Tennessee, to change his vote in favor of women’s suffrage. He ended up being the swing vote for Tennessee. Boxer said that she wants to give children the message that they have a voice and it matters. Courtesy photo of Elisa Boxer

SCARBOROUGH — For local author Elisa Boxer, it’s important that children know they have a voice and it matters, even when others are telling them that it doesn’t.

Children in 2020 may find it hard to believe that there was a time in the United States, 100 years ago, that women were denied a right to vote, and to have a voice in politics, but Boxer’s new picture book, “The Voice that Won the Vote,” tells the story of a mother, Febb Burn, who was alive when women weren’t given a right that most Americans now take for granted.

Burn’s son was a Tennessee lawmaker who made the swing vote back in 1920 to approve women’s suffrage, Boxer said. In a letter to her son, Burns tells him to be “a good boy” and vote for suffrage.

“I loved the idea that this woman who, at the time society was keeping women small, wrote a letter to her son to help change the course of history,” Boxer said. “The title implies that the voice can mean the woman or her son. It couldn’t have happened without her son changing his vote at the last minute.”

The story has a natural arc and leaves children and their parents in a moment of suspense as they wonder if Burn’s son will change his vote in favor of women’s suffrage, Boxer said.

Parents and teachers can also download a free guide that asks children to think and write about the story, she said. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many parents have been interested in engaging their children academically at home.

Boxer found that many children who read her new book are in disbelief that women had to fight for suffrage, she said. The truth of the time period was that many people didn’t think women deserved a voice, a sentiment Boxer often found while conducting her research for the story.

“I have quotes from people at the time, and one said, ‘The only vote a woman needs is the vote to choose her husband,'” she said. “A couple of other ones say things like, ‘Women voting is uncivilized.’ It really surprises children. Children growing up back then, those are the messages that they heard — Women were supposed to stay at home and have no say in politics. They were basically the property of their husbands or fathers. Kids have a hard time believing it’s true. It shocks them so much that they’re rooting even more for suffrage.”

Burn’s story stuck out to Boxer because it was one she’d never heard before, yet her letter and her words sparked a change, she said. Another problem highlighted in the story is Burn’s son’s fear that he wouldn’t be re-elected if he voted in favor of women’s suffrage.

“He really thought he wouldn’t win the next election,” Boxer said. “I found a headline that said he was ruined in politics.”

One of Boxer’s favorite lines in the story is, “Courage has a way of making things right,” a message she says she wants to instill in children.

“No matter what it is, I am hoping that this book encourages kids to find their voice and speak their truth, especially when it’s an unpopular opinion,” she said. “In my author’s note, I pointed out that the mother and the son had the courage to voice their opinion even when it’s not what others want.”

With her first book’s release in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, Boxer was a bit disappointed that she couldn’t visit classrooms and bookstores or see her own book up on the shelves, she said, but the story and its message has still made an impact on children.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from teachers and students,” she said. “I have a little free library outside my house, and occasionally, I’ll slip a couple of signed books in there. It’s fun.”

“I was putting a couple of signed books in there and this little girl drove through on her bike with her mom and told me she wanted to be an author when she grew up,” Boxer said. “So I gave her one of the books and signed it specifically for her and she was so excited. I know how much I loved reading as a kid and to be a part of that experience was such a thrill.”

Elisa Boxer is a Scarborough author who has released a children’s book about a woman who helped save the women’s suffrage movement in 1920, which has its centennial anniversary in August. Courtesy photo of Melissa Mullen

A Scarborough resident, Boxer started her career as a newspaper reporter in Massachusetts, she said. She then went on to receive her master’s degree in both newspaper and television reporting.

“I became a TV reporter but still focused on the longer depth reports,” she said. “There again, unsung heroes like Holocaust survivors, and survivors of sexual abuse at the Baxter School for the Deaf. I moved from TV reporting to teaching journalism after my son was born. I’ve always written children’s books. I never took it seriously as a career, but in the past couple of years, it combines my love of research and journalism with my passion for storytelling.”

For young, aspiring writers, Boxer said she recommends that they choose a topic that resonates with themselves on a personal manner, as books take a long time to publish.

“For kids looking to become authors, it helps crystallize what’s important to them,” she said. “I don’t know that as a child I would have thought, ‘OK, what really matters to me?’ I don’t think kids think about that a lot, but that’s such a good exercise.”

Although the book is recommended for children ages 6 through 12, Boxer said that many middle school students can use the picture book to learn history and make the subject more engaging.

“I sat through some boring history classes, and I think that if I had some picture books, I would have been more engaged,” she said.

To learn more about Boxer or to order her new book, visit elisaboxer.com.

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