Suffrage School

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 has 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 will release new videos at regular intervals for the remainder of the centennial year. Lessons available here will be archived in the Library’s Long 19th Amendment Portal, scheduled to launch in June. Each module is not only a freestanding lesson but also an invitation to explore the deeper research possibilities of the portal, which includes digitized collections, data sets, online exhibitions, and other teaching materials.

If you are interested in regularly receiving future Suffrage School lessons, which will highlight resources from the Schlesinger Library related to the Long 19th Amendment, please opt in by clicking here to ENROLL.

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Lessons from:


LESSON FROM CORINNE T. FIELD

 

Source document

"February 15, 1900, My Dear Friend," 4 pages. Folder 31, Susan B. Anthony Papers, 1815–1961.

Questions to guide further reflection

  • When you hear the name Susan B. Anthony, do you think of an old woman, or a young woman, or a generic woman with no particular age at all?  Why do you think that is?

  • Is ageism a barrier for women seeking election to national office?  Why or why not?

Additional resources

Corinne Field, "Grand Old Women and Modern Girls," Radcliffe Fellow's Presentation, 5 October 2018. 

Professor Field is an associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality at the University of Virginia, and the inaugural Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow (2018–2019) at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard.

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LESSON FROM Manisha Sinha

 

Source document

Wedding vows of Henry Browne Blackwell and Lucy Stone,” 1 page. Folder 143, Blackwell Family Papers (1825–1909).

Questions to guide further reflection

  • 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? 

Additional resources

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

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Lesson from Allison K. Lange

Source Document

Portrait of Sojourner Truth, carte de visite photograph, 1864, Courtesy of Barbara F. Lee of Cambridge, MA.

Questions to guide further reflection

  • 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? 

Additional resources

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.

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Lesson from Liette Gidlow

 

Source document

Letter to Lucy Burns,” 2 pages, Folder 223, Mary Ware Dennett Papers, 1874–1945.

Questions to guide further reflection

  • 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?

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Lesson from Beth Lew-WIlliams


Source document

Dallas Morning News article,” 1 page. Folder 294. Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, 1860–1935.

Questions to guide further reflection

  • 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? 

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Lesson from Susan Ware

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? 

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