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[Detail] Yellow ribbon from 1911 Suffrage Parade

Collection Overview

Votes for Women, 1848-1921, consists of proceedings from the meetings of women's organizations, books, pamphlets, memorials, and scrapbooks that document the struggle for women's suffrage and women's rights. The collection includes material from Carrie Chapman Catt, Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, and others.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

For help with search words, go to Votes for Women, 1848-1921 Subject Index.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


This online collection contains 167 items from the larger National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. The selected items include many important texts from the beginning of the movement for women's right to vote through 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. The collection shows a wide variety of opinions and strategies that helped win voting rights for women.

1) Woman Suffrage

Carrie Chapman Catt

Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt. (In 1920, after the 36th state had ratified.)

In 1938, Carrie Chapman Catt, a key coordinator in the woman suffrage movement, donated her collection of woman suffrage materials to the Library of Congress. Her collection chronicles the movement to gain the vote for women. Most of the materials are from speeches and meetings of activists, both women and men, who argued for and against woman suffrage.

Search on the names of well-known people who campaigned for women's right to vote including Susan B. Anthony, Henry Blackwell, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone.

For example, search on Lucy Stone for text such as,

Gentlemen will see it is no new claim that women are making. They only ask for the practical application of admitted, self-evident truths. If "all political power is inherent in the people," why have women, who are more than half the entire population of this State, no political existence? Is it because they are not people?... Women are even held to be citizens without the full rights of citizenship, but to bear the burden of "taxation without representation," which is "tyranny."

From "Woman Suffrage in New Jersey. An address by Lucy Stone at a hearing before the New Jersey Legislature, March 6, 1867."

2) Other Legal Rights

It took many years of organized struggle for women to gain the right to vote. However, between the first woman suffrage convention in 1848, and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women and others did gain voting rights in some states. During this time, women also lobbied for child labor laws, women's labor rights, and education.

Search on child labor, laws, and women's trade unions. For example, in "The Trade Union Woman," [1915] Alice Henry gives an overview of the women's trade union movement. In "Persuasion or Responsibility," Florence Kelley reports on child labor and illiteracy. She says,

According to the latest report of the Department of Education, the per cent of our population enrolled in the public schools had diminished during the past five years. The cotton fields of the South call for the black children, the cotton mills, wherever found, summon the white children. In the middle states, the sweat-shops of the great cities, the glassworks, and the Pennsylvania mines absorb the boys and girls.

Schools cost money, and boards of education are composed chiefly of business men, men eager to keep down the taxes and willing to have children work. ... It may be a mere coincidence,(but an interesting one), that illiteracy looms largest where women have least power, and grows less where they vote. Of the twenty states which have fewest illiterate children, women vote in eighteen.

From "Persuasion or Responsibility," by Florence Kelley, Political Equality Series, Vol II. No. 8,
Published Monthly by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. [c 1900]

3) Abolitionist Movement

The woman suffrage movement rose in part from other reform movements, including the movement to end slavery. Documents in the collection, such as "Proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women . . ." [1838], highlight the relationship between the rights of women and the rights of slaves and former slaves.

Search on abolition and slavery for documents that emphasize connections between abolitionism and the women's rights movement.

Search on Sojourner Truth for some of the speeches of this famous former slave. For example, at the American Equal Rights Association meeting in 1867, Sojourner Truth said,

The object of this Association is to "secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the Right of Suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex." American Democracy has interpreted the Declaration of Independence in the interest of slavery, restricting suffrage and citizenship to a white male minority.

The black man is still denied the crowning right of citizenship, even in the nominally free States .... Half our population are disfranchised on the ground of sex; and though compelled to obey the law and taxed to support the government, they have no voice in the legislation of the country. This Association, then, has a mission to perform, the magnitude and importance of which cannot be over-estimated.

From "Proceedings of the First Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association, held at the Church of the Puritans, New York, May 9 and 10, 1867."

4) Other Reforms: Temperance, Marriage, Religion

illustration of three men from “How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette”.

"For some odd reason the Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association doesn't happen to like the idea of female suffrage." From, "How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette, by him. Illustrations by May Wilson Preston. [c. 1915]

Among the reform movements of this period, documents discussing temperance, marriage, and religion can be found in this collection.

Search on religion for such documents as "Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel" [1853], which is the sermon preached at the ordination of the first American woman into the clergy.

Search on temperance for such documents as "Address Before the Second Biennial Convention of the World's Christian Temperance Union" [1893], by Frances Elizabeth Willard, which relates temperance to other areas of reform.

Search on husband, marriage, and wife for documents about women's rights in a marriage. "For Rent--One Pedestal," [1917], contains a lively set of letters by Marjorie Schuler narrating her account of being, at first, a reluctant activist in the suffrage movement. The humorous "How It Feels to Be the Husband of a Suffragette" includes this commentary:

Lots of good men who have no intellectual objection to women's voting nurse at heart a timidity whenever they visualize the horrible results. You can see it in many a polite, genteel citizen's eye, the moment suffrage talk starts, as if he were wondering just what his own women folks would act like around the house if they knew they were as good as he was and could prove it legally.

Of course it is a false alarm. The percentage of divorces doesn't rise in suffrage states because of suffrage; and logically there is no more reason why two domestic partners who are comrades, mutually acknowledging a pleasant equality, should separate, than there is for the separation of two people of opposite sex who, condemned to live together, are striving diligently to maintain an inequality.

From "How it Feels to be the Husband of a Suffragette, by him." [c1915]

5) Education

Significant advances in education for women took place during the period covered by this collection. As with other reforms, there was a struggle to gain advances in women's educational opportunities.

Search on education for documents about improving women's access to education. For example, the group of essays, "Women and the Alphabet" discusses women's education and employment opportunities. The first essay describes the differences between pay for male and female teachers:

But every female common-school teacher in the United States finds the enjoyment of her four hundred dollars a year to be secretly embittered by the knowledge that the young college stripling in the next schoolroom is paid twice that sum for work no harder or more responsible than her own, and that, too, after the whole pathway of education has been obstructed for her, and smoothed for him.

From, "Women and the Alphabet; a Series of Essays," by Thomas Wentworth Higginson. 1900.


Critical Thinking

1) Chronological Thinking

The collection is useful for tracing chronological development of the woman suffrage movement. Students can find materials about events leading to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, originally proposed as the Sixteenth Amendment in 1878. Students can relate the collection contents to a timeline of women's rights.

Select Timeline: One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage on the collection home page, for a listing of events in the fight for woman suffrage. These events range from Abigail Adams's letter to her husband in 1776 asking the writers of the Declaration of Independence to "remember the ladies," to 1923, when the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed. Students can find examples from the collection that illustrate events on the timeline.

2) Historical Comprehension

These documents can help students comprehend content in terms of target audience and purpose for persuasive arguments. Many of the documents are quite long, so it will be a challenge to pull out information. Students will need to make good use of the tables of contents that appear in many of the documents.

For example, students can search for "Women and the Alphabet" [1900], a series of essays on women's educational rights and opportunities. Using the table of contents for "Women and the Alphabet," students can select essays to read, and then identify the purpose and target audience for the persuasive essays.

3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation

This collection provides a clear chronicle of the life of a political cause, that of woman suffrage. The collection offers both pro- and anti-suffrage points of view. For example;

Search on Ralph Waldo Emerson for "A Reasonable Reform" [1881], which contains Emerson's arguments aimed at debunking anti-vote arguments.

4) Historical Research Capabilities

The collection clearly illustrates continuity of themes and issues. Students can use the collection to study a particular subject at 20 to 30 year intervals. Students can then compare and record passages or positions that seem to mark changes in prevailing attitudes.

Students might want to select the Subject Index on the collection home page to find documents that compare attitudes on issues such as temperance, socialism, and family life. Using the Subject Index, students might compare documents found under the subject headings husband and wife; marriage; social reformers United States; and temperanceóCongress. For example;

Search on voting to find Carrie Chapman Catt's introduction to "The Woman Voter's Manual" [1918]. In the introduction, Catt relates benefits such as shorter workdays, minimum wage, and equal guardianship to whether states have woman suffrage.

5) Historical Issue Analysis

For experience in issue analysis, students might reconstruct opposing positions for debates. Suffragists also prepared for debate by reviewing arguments of both pro- and anti-vote activists. For example;

Search on woman suffrage or debate to find the debate handbook section of "Selected Articles on Woman Suffrage" [1912]. Some students can take the position of an affirmative argument in the handbook, such as "Woman suffrage is logical and just." Other students can take the position of a negative argument in the handbook, such as "[Suffrage] is not a natural or inherent right."


Arts & Humanities

1) Argument and Persuasion

Students can use the collection to practice persuasive writing on topics related to some of the documents. Ideas for topics might include:

  • Voting Is a Family Value
  • Equality Between Women and Men Has Its Limits
  • Women Are Entitled to the Same Rights as Men√≥No More, No Less

In order to prepare their arguments, students might search the collection for topics such as socialism and politics. For example, students might review opposing opinions in the documents: "Socialism, Feminism, and Suffragism, the Terrible Triplets. . .," [c1915], and "From Pinafores to Politics," [1923].

2) Literary Forms

Students can study a variety of literary forms through this collection. Have students consider why a particular literary form was used to present a topic, and then comment on the effectiveness of using that form. Search the collection for examples of literary forms such as:

Autobiography: "From Pinafores to Politics," Daisy Hurst Harriman [1923]
"Life's Story," Mary Ryerson Butin [1930]

Poetry: "Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times," Alice Duer Miller [c1915]

Drama: "Lucy Stone, a Chronicle Play," Maud Wood Park [1938]

Essay: "A Reasonable Reform," Ralph Waldo Emerson [1881]

Letters: "For Rent--One Pedestal," Marjorie Schuler [1917]

3) Performance

Using the list of literary forms above, students can print out the poetry and/or drama selection, then select portions to perform as readers' theater. Emerson's essay, in its entirety, can also serve as a dramatic reading.

4) Creative Writing

Students can search on heroism to find items in the collection that highlight themes such as heroism and personal strength. Then, using their search results and personal experiences, students can write their own essays, poems, or short dramas. For example, in "The Ballot and the Bullet," stories are told of brave women who disguised themselves as men in order to fight in the Civil War. One account says,

The Brooklyn, N. Y. "Times" of October, 1863, soon after the battle of Chattanooga, gave an account of a young woman who joined the army of the Cumberland, and endured many hardships and showed great courage and heroism . During one of the severest engagements she was terribly wounded in the left side by a mine ball, and was borne from the bloody field to the surgeon's tent, where her sex was discovered. The brave girl was told that her wound was mortal, and she was urged and finally consented to reveal her true name and the home of her parents who had mourned for her as one dead.

From "The Ballot and the Bullet," compiled by Carrie Chapman Catt [1897]

5) Use of Irony

Students might study the writers in the collection to examine how irony was used to make a point. Encourage students to use documents in the collection as models for their own writing. For example, irony appears in "Campaign Material (For Both Sides)" which includes a list entitled "Why We Oppose Votes for Men:"

  1. Because man's place is the armory.
  2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
  3. Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
  4. Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums.
  5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them peculiarly unfit for the task of government.

From, "Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times," Alice Duer Miller [c1915]