Coming to Broadway: ‘Suffs’ Explores the Struggle for Women’s Equality—One That’s Far From Over

(Deborah Feingold)

We at Ms. magazine are counting the days until Suffs arrives on Broadway, following its sold-out, extended run at New York City’s Public Theater. Called a “remarkable, epic new musical” by Variety, the show boldly explores the victories and failures of a struggle for equality—one that’s far from over.

The show opens in 1913 as the women’s movement is heating up in the United States. Anchored by a cadre of suffragists—“Suffs,” as they call themselves—they are in relentless, creative pursuit of the right to vote. Reaching across and against generational, racial and class divides, these brilliant, flawed women manage to entertain and inspire.

Among them, of course, is the bold Inez Milholland, NYU Law Class of 1912. Today, the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center (BWLC), a partner for this Women & Democracy installment, proudly carries on her legacy.

Read on for an excerpt from the review of the Public Theater performance of Suffs—and head here for the full version, to be updated when the show officially opens on Broadway on April 18, 2024.

Look for special theater nights as well, with partners including the BWLC, Columbia Law’s ERA Project and the ERA Coalition. 

With its impeccable period costumes and powerhouse all-female cast, Suffs explores the women who drove the 19th Amendment across the finish line a century ago—and whose tactics and strategies continue to shape the fight for social and political equality.

Unlike the limited lessons of women’s suffrage many learn—Seneca Falls and Susan B. Anthony—Suffs digs deep into the gamesmanship wielded by the movement’s early 20th-century leaders. Among those are Carrie Chapman Catt, stalwart of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who favored winning the vote state-by-state while wielding elite, inside influence to push for a federal amendment; Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, next-gen radicals of the day, whose National Women’s Party crafted the playbook for civil disobedience; and Chicago journalist Ida B. Wells and activist Mary Church Terrell whose call out of the unique plight of Black women framed the fight for universal suffrage. …

How little the general public has absorbed about this movement and its myriad players is not an accident, suggests Lucy Beard, director of the Alice Paul Institute, in a 2020 interview. Activists like Alice Paul and Inez Milholland, as well as many of the others portrayed in Suffs—Doris Stevens, Ruza Wenclawska and Dudley Malone, hardly household names—“represented the radical part of the suffrage movement,” said Beard, “[and] history generally gets written by the moderates.”

Suffs may be just the medium to change that. And a bonus, it also manages to impart a dose of pragmatic wisdom for today’s activists: that radical and moderate strategies need not forever be locked in conflict but rather can be combined to force-multiply and win seismic change. …

By the conclusion of Suffs, an elderly Alice Paul (still going strong in the early 1970s, fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, 50 years after drafting it) grapples with the tenets of second-wave feminism, the next generational divide. And a determined finale, angry and joyous at once, picks up in the tumultuous here and now. The fight has not been won. We have not fully succeeded. We march on.  

Care about women’s equality? We do too. Let Ms. keep you up to date with our daily + weekly newsletters(Or go back to the “ERA Is Essential to Democracy” media collection.)


Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is the executive director of Ms. partnerships and strategy. A lawyer, fierce advocate and frequent writer on issues of gender, feminism and politics in America, Weiss-Wolf has been dubbed the “architect of the U.S. campaign to squash the tampon tax” by Newsweek. She is the author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, which was lauded by Gloria Steinem as “the beginning of liberation for us all,” and is a contributor to Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. She is also the executive director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center at NYU Law. Find her on Twitter: @jweisswolf.