Articles

Petitions, Protest, and Persuasion: Women’s Voices in the Records of the National Archives


This is a rerecording of Petitions
Protests and Persuasion: Women’s Voices in the Records of the National Archives,
a webinar for educators that was offered on Thursday March 28th to 2019. The goal
of this program is to share primary sources and activities for teaching the
women’s suffrage movement from the National Archives’ holdings. As we
approach the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment in
2020 the records of the National Archives can play an important part in
telling the story of how women achieved the right to vote. After all, government
has played a role in both limiting and expanding our rights. Throughout our
nation’s history people have challenged the government to gain recognition of
their rights often through petitions and protests. Today we are going to examine
how primary sources from the National Archives holdings show how women use
petitions protests and persuasion in the fight to for suffrage. I will also
connect you to resources you can use in your classroom to help students analyze
the women’s suffrage movement from multiple perspectives.
I should note the records of the National Archives do not tell the
complete story of the women’s suffrage movement our role as the government’s
record keeper means we are missing pieces related to events that happened
at the state and local and organizational levels. Additionally due
in part to the exclusionary nature of some of the organizations that targeted
the government we are missing the voices of important minority activists. However
what we do have can help your students evaluate the different methods of the
women’s suffrage movement and understand why women wanted the right to vote. We
will highlight stories of some of the major players in this fight and also
connect you to primary sources that share lesser-known but important voices
in this decades-long effort. Let’s start with petitions. The Center for
Legislative Archives, part of the National Archives houses the official
records of the House and Senate starting with the records of the first Congress
in 1789. The records of Congress can help tell an important part of the 19th
amendment story. The First Amendment of the Constitution provides citizens with
the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The greatest
volume of congressional records we have were not created by Congress or
government agencies but by the people writing to
Congress exercising their First Amendment right to petition. Among the
tens of thousands of petitions related to women’s suffrage are petitions from
individuals and others signed by and thousands of people there are
petitions from famous historical figures as well as from ordinary citizens about
whom little is known today. Their letters reveal much about their world their
strategies and the reasons they wanted the right to vote. We can use petitions
to help students answer some of these questions: what were the methods of the
women’s suffrage movement? why did women want the right to vote? how
did women and men organize? how have individuals exercised their rights to
bring about societal change? Let’s take a look at some examples of petitions from
the National Archives holdings. After the Civil War
many questions remained regarding the future of freed women in men, questions
that invited constitutional clarification
advocates for women’s rights were determined to make women’s voting rights
a part of that conversation. On January 29th 1866 this petition was presented on
the floor of the House. It was among the first of several hundred petitions like
it asking for universal suffrage. The petitioners wrote: “the undersigned women
of the United States respectfully ask an amendment of the Constitution that shall
prohibit the several states from disfranchising any of their citizens on
the ground of sex. In making our demand for suffrage we would call your
attention to the fact that we represent 15 million people one-half the entire
population of the country intelligent virtuous native-born American citizens
and yet stand outside the pale of political recognition.” One of the
interesting features of this particular petition is the group of notable women
from New York who signed it. At the top we can see the names of Elizabeth Cady
Stanton and Susan B Anthony next there is the signature of Antoinette Brown
Blackwell who was the first woman ordained minister in the United States
Lucy Stone was an early advocate for women’s rights and was famous for
keeping her maiden name when she married to show she was independent from
her husband, she was supposedly the first recorded woman to do this and Ernestine
Rose a Jewish abolitionist and suffragists born in Poland who spoke out
for women’s rights in Europe before emigrating to the United States. We can
use a petition like this one to help students think about why did women want
the right to vote and what methods did they use? This document also serves as a
nice example of what a petition is for students at the elementary level. We can
break it down into parts looking at the form the title and the signatures. Up
next we have a petition from the American Equal Rights Association to
Congress. The American Equal Rights Association was a coalition of men and
women, black and white, dedicated to fighting for racial and gender equality
this petition is from 1867 at the bottom of the petition we can see the
leadership of this organization included such figures
Lucretia Mott, Theodore Tilton, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and
Susan B Anthony. This was a short-lived organization. After the 14th Amendment
inserted the word male into the Constitution and it looked like the 15th
Amendment would only prohibit States from denying suffrage based on race this
group divided over support for the 15th Amendment and strategy on how to
secure the right to vote for women as some like Anthony and Stanton chose to
speak out against the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and actively worked
against it. others saw the Fifteenth Amendment as an important step to
universal suffrage. out of the AERA, two organizations would form in 1869 the
national Woman Suffrage Association would seek to achieve
woman suffrage through federal amendment the American Woman Suffrage Association
would pursue suffrage via a state-by-state strategy. Eventually
suffragists agreed that the strongest strategy did not include divided efforts
so the organizations merged into the National American Woman Suffrage
Association in 1890. Petitions like this one can provide insight into the
organization of different groups of a woman suffrage movement and also add our understanding of why women wanted the right to vote, the types of arguments
that were being made for universal suffrage at this time. In the 1870s the
National Woman Suffrage Association would lead a campaign for a 16th
amendment this amendment would be modeled on the 15th and the intent of
this proposed amendment was to specifically ban disenfranchisement on
account of sex and the petition here emphasized the
importance of widespread petitioning campaigns. If we look a little closer at
this petition we can understand how these were organized. They want to, the
National Woman Suffrage Association is encouraging that women gather petitions
and throughout the country and then submit them all to the main office in
Washington DC where they will be compiled and submitted to Congress. In response to
this appeal petitions, many petitions poured in this particular petition that
we’re looking at was submitted by twelve women and 15 men from Colorado in
1877, which is noted at the top of this page, probably when it was received it
was presented to Congress and it was one of 20 similar petitions signed by more
than 6,000 individuals introduced to the House on this day alone. A year after
this particular appeal was submitted an amendment for women’s suffrage was
introduced to Congress for the first time. So again petitions like this one
provide insight into the structure and methods of the National Woman Suffrage
Association how they’re trying to exert a national leadership African American suffragists also
played a crucial role in the struggle for women’s voting rights while facing
racism and segregation that existed within the country and within the
suffrage community. Frederick Douglass a leader within the abolition movement was
also an important voice in the women’s suffrage movement and his activism was
shared by members of his family. This is a petition from a drive organized by the
National Woman Suffrage Association this petition is from African American
residents of Washington DC with separate columns for men and women signers, it is
signed by Frederick Douglass’ adult children, Frederick Douglass, jr.
and his wife as well as Frederick Douglass’ daughter Rosetta Douglass who
signed it under her married name Mrs. Nathan Sprague, her husband also signed
the petition. These petitioners asked Congress to prohibit States from
disfranchising United States citizens on account of sex. In addition to petitions
organized by national coalitions we also have petitions that provide insight
into the organization of women at the state and local level. This next petition
helps us take a look at that that state story. In May of 1916 Minnie Fisher
Cunningham submitted this petition on behalf of the Texas Woman Suffrage
Association. It shows the kind of organizing that was happening at the
state level. The letterhead provides insight into the different positions and
how the organization was run by these women. When this petition was written 12
states had granted women full suffrage and others had given women
partial voting rights but women’s suffrage had also been met with repeated
resistance particularly throughout much of the South or voting rights for
African American men had been greatly restricted. This petition reflects what’s
going on at this time it notes that women’s suffrage would not threaten this
form of voter repression in the in Texas these women
were working to extend the right to vote to women at Texas laws preventing people
of color from voting not be threatened which is what
this last paragraph gets at. This is a good reminder that just because women
supported suffrage or voting rights for women they did not necessarily want or
support universal suffrage. the National American Woman Suffrage Association
admitted some African American members at the same time limited membership and
participation in national conferences the National Organization also
prioritized the suffrage of white women in its work. However African American
women did work with national organizations but they also form to
their own clubs these clubs played an important role in the women’s suffrage
movement. Here we have an example of a petition from the Rhode Island Union
Colored Women’s Clubs showing their support for women’s suffrage. This
particular petition also looks at the rest of the world noting that the women
of Australia New Zealand and parts of Canada and European countries are now
able to vote whereas the United States is not. A petition like this from a state
or local organization can also be a great starting place for students to
learn more about suffragists from their own state and perhaps spark a research
project to learn more about who these women are and what role they played
within their communities. The last petition we’re going to highlight in
this program is a little different from the other ones we’ve looked at there were many large organized
petitions campaigns as we’ve seen but also individuals who
wrote to Congress supporting suffrage for very specific and personal reasons.
If we look at this letter from Hattie Bordewich we can see she is a cashier
from the letterhead at the Olivia State Bank in Olivia, Minnesota. As she, in
this letter she describes her political disability as she explains that she has
been supporting herself since she was 18 she pays taxes, she can vote in
school meetings and for the County Superintendent of Schools, a good
reminder that there were places or partial suffrage existed at this time.
This demonstrates her civic involvement. However she notes that there are many
men who do none of these things and may vote indiscriminately this working woman
wants equal suffrage rights and asked the Minnesota congressional delegation
for help. Sometimes written documents can be challenging for students to analyze
so we’ve created two sets of document analysis worksheets
to help students in, in this process by reading primary sources students engage
in the activities of historians they make sense of the stories events and
ideas in the past through document analysis and documents involve students
in the process of historical inquiry when they ask questions discover
evidence and participate in debates over interpretation Each document analysis
worksheet walk students through four different sections. They start by meeting
the document, just starting with their initial observations, then they observe
its parts so breaking down the document into who wrote it or created it, who
received it, where is it from, when is it from, then they try to make sense of it
thinking about what is this document talking about, how would they summarize it
in one sentence why did the author write it, what evidence from the document
supports that, what else is happening in the time when this document is created?
Finally students use the document as historical evidence thinking about what have they learned from this
document they might not learn anywhere else or what other documents or
historical evidence will they need to help understand this event or topic. We
have sets of these worksheets for each different type of primary source
or record we have in our holdings photographs, political cartoons, posters,
artifacts, artwork, sound recordings, and so on and we also have a worksheet for a
novice or younger students as well petitions help personalize these issues
and these worksheets can help students dive into these petitions and find out
that women didn’t just want the right to vote because they felt like it was
unjust the lack of representation hurt them in very real ways. Looking at
different petitions together whether it’s in a gallery walk or another
activity can give students a chance to analyze arguments and think about how
women make their case or what elements of persuasive writing do they employ
there’s also a value to sharing petitions with the students to help them
forge that connection to real people in the past and show examples of how people
from the past demonstrated civic responsibility and made a difference by
participating. Now I do have one last petition I want to share with you in
this program and that is this one now as we mentioned not all women supported
universal suffrage and not all women supported suffrage for women in the
first place. This next petition comes from the National Association Opposed to
Woman Suffrage and help provide students with insights into why some especially
women might oppose voting rights for women in the first place this letter
provides insight into the this organization it provides a platform at
the top of the letter we can see that the
a list of vice presidents and board of directors are all prominent women at
this time. This letter makes the case that against a federal amendment saying
that voting is a state issue and should be resolved by the states and on the
second page it gets into the heart of an argument one argument against extending
voting rights to women it says it would be an endorsement of nagging as a
national policy and that if feminism can be put through by pestering regardless
of the will the people so can pacifism socialism and other isms. So it’s this
fear and not of this woman voting but of other women voting of people immigrating
to the United States the people with ideas who might be seen as as different
to than what these women are used to, so this is a this petition is one of many
examples we have in the holdings of the National Archives that looks at some
arguments against women’s suffrage it also shows us when it comes to women’s
voting rights there are a lot of different perspectives on this issue. Alright, up next we, well first we’ve seen the National Archives has petitions that
span the entirety of the women’s suffrage movement and provide an
excellent look at the methods and reasons for why women wanted the right
to vote. Women didn’t just use their words though, they also showed up garnering
the attention of the media, public, and elected officials. We’re going to take a
look at photos from the National Archives
holdings and these photos can be used in the classroom to again get at that issue
of the methods of the women’s suffrage movement, to help students think about
how individuals have exercised their rights, help practices evaluating visual
information skills and make connections between the past and present so start
with this one photo let’s just take a look at it and think about what we see,
what we noticed first, how would we describe what’s happening. In the 20th
century suffragists began staging large and dramatic parades to draw attention
to their cause this was this picture comes from one of the most consequential
demonstrations, it was a march held in Washington DC on March 3rd 1913 the day
before Woodrow Wilson’s first presidential inauguration more than
5,000 suffragists from across the country paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue
from the US Capitol building to the Treasury Building. The rowdy mostly male
crowd watching the parade pressed in on the demonstration at times leaving
barely enough room for the marchers to get by, many women reported that they
were verbally and physically assaulted while as some of the police stood by
either unwilling or unable to control the crowd. There was public outrage over
the violence and disorder this resulted in a congressional investigation into
the lack of police protection for the marchers and it helped increase US
sympathy for the women’s suffrage movement. These photos actually come from
that congressional investigation. This march set a precedent for future marches
but it also brought controversy the National American Woman Suffrage
Association said that all women and men were welcome to march however march
organizer Alice Paul attempted to exclude African American women from
participating because she feared white women would not want to march alongside
them. Ultimately the NAWSA forced Paul to allow African American women to join the
procession but there was a segregated section for African American women
however some women of color such as civil rights Crusader
Ida B. Welles-Barnett and lawyer Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin a
member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians bucked this attempt
to racially segregate the parade and joined the parade walking alongside white women. We
have Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin’s personnel file within the holdings the
National Archives she was a prominent advocate on behalf of Native American
women she served as a clerk in the office of Indian Affairs and later went
on to become a lawyer this photo provides a nice entry point
into talking about her story and her role in the women’s suffrage movement. So
again we can use these photos to look at the methods of the women’s suffrage
movement thinking about how women exercise their rights and also looking
at photos is a good reminder that they don’t always tell the full story
sometimes we need some additional contextual information to learn about
what happened before or what after what happened before or after the photos were
taken. Photos are also a great place to start a class discussion because they
give students a chance to weigh in starting with their observations, what
they observe they can be just a simple see think wonder activity it’s a great
place to start with with these photos. We also have photos of the silent sentinels
in front of the White House. Many of us are familiar with these photos these
woman were the first Americans to picket the White House bringing their
message straight to the president they kept it going for six days a week for
nearly two years. These women were viewed as more militant suffragists
and they were controversial even within the mainstream suffrage movement. Women
who picketed in front of the White House were arrested for exercising their First
Amendment rights and the arrest and treatment of the the picketers won
public sympathy and placed additional pressure on the White House.
These women attempted to call out the hypocrisy of fighting a war to make the
world safe for democracy when women who were engaged in that war effort were
denied their full citizenship rights at home however many women were criticized
for protesting the White House during this time of war. So far in this program
we’ve examined how women made the case for the right to vote through petitions
and protest. we could also use National Archives records to take a closer look
at another strategy. I’m going to take you through documents that can help
students understand how women try to make a constitutional argument for the
right to vote after the passage of the 14th Amendment. In the 1870s women
asserted that they had the right to vote and then went out and voted. This
strategy evolved at the local level we have examples of women across the
country trying to vote in the Reconstruction era. Missouri suffragists
Francis and Virginia Minor put forward a constitutional argument of the 14th
amendment guaranteed the right to vote to women they just had to exercise it.
The National Woman Suffrage Association embraced this idea and
championed it as a new national suffrage strategy this became known as the New
Departure strategy that encouraged women to test this argument by voting. A legal
test with a court ruling could that the Constitution already
secured the right to vote for women could circumvent the fight for
legislation. While this is championed as a national strategy it’s built on these
grassroots efforts in 1868 they’re about 172 women in Vineland New
Jersey who vote we have examples of women across the country attempting to
vote on 1871 Mary Ann Shad Cary attempts to register in Washington DC, in
1872 Sojourner Truth attempts to register and vote in Battle Creek
Michigan and 1872 Anthony, Susan B. Anthony is joined by 14 women
in Rochester where they register and then vote in the election. While Susan B.
Anthony isn’t the first woman to vote the digitized records related to her
arrest trial and fine provide an account of this constitutional argument and
present an opportunity for students to evaluate the arguments themselves. To
explore the story we can use these Susan B. Anthony, the transcript of her hearing
this is a helpful document to see how elected officials originally were
against registering or election officials were against Anthony
registering to vote and then to explore Anthony’s rationale for why she should
be permitted to register and to vote You can also take a look at the joint
resolution proposing the 14th Amendment at section one that says all persons
born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States they
tried to use this section, those who believe who are fighting for woman
suffrage as as justification for women having the right to vote if we consider
voting to be a right of citizenship then laws denying women the right to vote are
violating are violating the section of the Fourteenth Amendment. Now the judge
will ultimately rule against Susan B. Anthony and find her guilty of voting
illegally and she’ll be fined $100 which she will never pay and another document
we have is a petition to Congress for the remission of the fine imposed on her
and this document provides additional details from Susan B. Anthony’s
perspective of her of her case and how she was treated during this legal
proceeding. Now Anthony’s case will not make it past this point however a
Virginia Minor’s case we’ll make it all the way to the
Supreme Court and in Minor. v. Happersett the Supreme Court will find that the
Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon
anyone and that’s the laws that prohibit voting in these states are are okay. So here we have this these documents that
can help students analyze this argument to think about the methods of the
women’s suffrage movement how effective were they how effective was this
argument this case can also help students think about the role government
plays and expanding and limiting rights and also it gives students a chance to
tackle this question themselves, should voting be a right of citizenship? This
activity these documents are available in an activity on DocsTeach.org that you
can share with your students the last resource I want to highlight in this
program is the popular topics page on DocsTeach for women’s rights so I’m going to switch over to sharing
my screen okay here we have the popular topics
page for women’s rights on DocsTeach on this page you will find a curated
collections of primary sources for teaching a variety of topics related to
the women’s suffrage movement and beyond including sections for different
petitions sections on women in the workforce women’s role during the wars
as well as teaching activities that you can share with your students to look at
some of the questions we’ve been talking about today why did women want the right
to vote how did the process of ratifying the 19th amendment unfold and then
evaluating the new departure strategy takes the documents we just looked at
and puts them together in an activity that you can have your students complete.
Now if you are registered for a free DocsTeach account you can save this
activity and then share it with your students and actually observe their
responses within DocsTeach so here we have a suggested teaching at
instructions for this page just for you and if we click start activity this is
the link you can share with your students to have them go through these
different documents think about these different questions and share their
responses with you this page this women’s rights landing page is a great
place to start exploring to see all the resources the National Archives has to
offer for teaching this topic of women’s suffrage so I encourage you to start exploring links to all the resources shared in this webinar are
available in the description below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *