We invite learners of all ages to explore the long, complex, and ongoing efforts to ensure full citizenship for women in the United States.
In honor of the centennial of the 1920 ratification of the Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which declared that the right to vote could not be denied “on account of sex,” Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library invited a broad array of researchers, writers, and teachers to join us in creating a series of digital teaching modules. Each lesson in our Suffrage School connects in rich and unpredictable ways to the Library’s Long 19th Amendment Project, which tackles the tangled history of gender and American citizenship.
Every module is anchored by a short informal video in which the guest instructor “opens” a primary source from the Schlesinger’s collections, helping students and teachers to understand both the text (or object) and its historical context. Each lesson includes a link to the digitized documents, questions to guide further reflection, and—in some cases—additional readings.
Initial installments explore the ways in which Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth leveraged the power of images and why the suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone and her husband published marriage vows “under protest.” Leading scholars also examine the role of Congress in the battle for women’s suffrage and why the example of the American West was so important to organizers who wanted to “finish the fight.”
Suffrage School opened on June 1, 2020, and released new videos at regular intervals throughout the remainder of the centennial year. Each module is not only a freestanding lesson but also an invitation to explore the deeper research possibilities of the portal, which include digitized collections, data sets, online exhibitions, and other teaching materials.
The lessons appear here in chronological order of the documents they discuss, beginning in 1855 with Lucy Stone’s and Henry Blackwell’s protest wedding vows and ending in 2020 with our very own #SuffrageSyllabus.
Do you think Lucy Stone’s and Henry Blackwell’s protest for equality between the sexes in marriage was effective? What are some other possible areas of marriage inequality that women still contend with today?
How did the laws of coverture that made women legally subject to their fathers and husbands underlie Victorian gender conventions of separate spheres for men and women and women as purely private, domestic creatures? Do we still contend with the legacy of that legal and political disfranchisement of women?
Manisha Sinha, “The Woman Question, in The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 266–298.
Professor Sinha is the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and was a 2019–2020 Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard
When you look at this photograph, which detail stands out to you the most? Why? What does this aspect of the image tell us about the way that Truth wanted to represent herself?
In what ways are the portraits that you take of yourself—selfies—similar to Truth’s? When you take a selfie, what do you highlight and what do you hide? What kinds of messages are you sending with your portraits?
Allison K. Lange, “Portraits as Politics,”Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 53–87.
Allison K. Lange is an assistant professor of history at the Wentworth Institute of Technology and visiting curator at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard.
Stanton believed that “no form of religion has yet taught the equality of women. Do you agree? To what degree is that still the case?
Almost four decades before Stanton wrote this letter to her friend Antoinette Brown Blackwell, she insisted that the denial to women of “the sacred right of the franchise” was fundamental to their subordination. What do you think of her decision to shift her energies to religious opposition?
What do you learn from this letter—Stanton’s arguments, her humorous way of writing, even her handwriting—about the character and personality of Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
Source documents “Speech by Anna Howard Shaw,” 3 pages. Folder 490. Anna Howard Shaw Papers in the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection. Writings and Speeches, 1871–1919.
Questions to guide further reflection
How does Anna Howard Shaw indicate that she is dismissive of Native people?
How does Shaw present women suffragists as superior to many white male politicians?
Shaw closes her speech by stating that “we carried every native American county, we were defeated by American and foreign votes.” She doesn’t mean Indigenous people, so who is she blaming for the defeat of women suffrage?
Look at the names of the women represented in the game. Do you recognize any? If yes, how has the history of their work been kept alive? Are there any well-known suffragists who you feel are missing? If yes, why do you think McCulloch did not represent these women and does this tell us anything about the wider suffrage movement?
You will notice some of the trivia included in the game pertains to children’s rights and not women’s rights. Why do you think this was included in a Women’s Rights game?
Identify a similar incident of costuming for political theater in your own time. Next, compare and contrast that incident with Foley’s foray into the Comstock mines. What similarities and differences do you see and what might explain those similarities and differences?
Considering the importance of place, speculate as to how westerners and easterners might have seen this image differently. What factors (social, economic, cultural, and political) may have affected their reaction to this photograph?
How did US entry into World War I shift NAWSA strategy and rhetoric? Students could also compare NAWSA’s position/tactics regarding WWI with those of the National Woman’s Party.
On page 7, the Congressional Committee report describes the opening of (in December 1916) and activities at NAWSA’s Washington, DC, headquarters at 1626 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, known as “Suffrage House.” What difference did it make for NAWSA to have a large office in the nation’s capital? What sort of events did they host there? Students could also look up pictures of Suffrage House online or in digitized editions of the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 5.
One of the underlying rhetorical tensions of the women’s suffrage movement was that while suffragists wanted to galvanize women for the cause, it was also imperative for them to persuade male voters in order to get bills passed. Was Anti-Suffrage Notes pursuing this dual agenda as well? Where in this issue can we see clues—or downright declarations—of this publication’s intended audience or audiences?
Can you find a recent example of statistics being used in a political argument? Why do you think the speaker chose to reference those statistics in particular? What conclusions did they draw? Can you think of any alternative explanations?
Mary Ware Dennett, who worked for NAWSA, admits in the letter that she had long been “on the opposite side of the fence from” Burns and the NWP. Describe the strategies employed by each group to advance the suffrage cause. Why did each group think the other group’s approach was detrimental to the cause?
The imprisonment of Lucy Burns, Alice Paul, and other NWP suffragists helped to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of suffrage. How does the letter testify to that shift?
Source document “Seeing is Believing! Finish the Fight!” (Handbill distributed by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1919), 1 page. Folder 640. Florence Luscomb Papers in the Woman’s Rights Collection. Suffrage flyers in various languages from several states, 1904–1919.
Questions to guide further reflection
What are the advantages and disadvantages of promoting women’s suffrage through state and local referendums versus a federal amendment?
Why do you think so many of the early victories occurred in Western states?
Why do you think Alice Paul and her National Woman’s Party put such emphasis on publicity photographs like these two? What were they trying to accomplish with them?
Do political movements and social causes use these kind of communication tools—photos for the media—today? Have advances in technology changed how movements/causes communicate their activities to the public? Can you give some examples?
Should we celebrate Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s legacy as a feminist, knowing that she also spread nativist messages based in eugenics? Does it make sense to evaluate people in the past based on our current beliefs and values?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman used racial language to describe her concept of a “real American” and advocate for immigration restriction. Do you think that racism continues to inform anti-immigrant sentiment today?
How could Doris Stevens have been more supportive to Ofelia Domínguez Navarro when Domínguez and the Unión Laborista de Mujeres explained that it was not an opportune time for them to fight for women’s suffrage in Cuba? Why do you think Stevens was not supportive?
Domínguez’s group the Unión Laborista de Mujeres produced a flyer that contained Stevens’s letter to Domínguez and Domínguez’s response in one page front-and-back under the header “To the Political Conscience of the Latin American Woman.” They shared this flyer with feminist groups throughout the Americas and later called it one of their “greatest anti-imperialist acts” to date. Why do you think Domínguez wanted to publicize this letter to other Latin American feminists?
On the cusp of the 1990s, Angela Davis notes the benefits of using historical hindsight to assess the successes and failures of women’s movements for change. (10:28–11:00) How can her insights be used to analyze previous and contemporary waves of women’s activism?
What opportunities for analysis are revealed by watching Angela Davis’ speech and witnessing her cadence, expressions, emphases, and body language?
A team of scholars and Harvard College students worked together to create the #SuffrageSyllabus, which offers a semester’s worth of readings and assignments on the broad topic of women’s still-unfinished struggle for full and equal citizenship in the United States.
The #SuffrageSyllabus also inaugurates the Library’s Long 19th Amendment Project Portal, an open-access digital gateway to archival collections, data sets, teaching materials, and scholarship that help us tell a more complex and inclusive story about gender and voting rights in America.