EJANZH: US Woman Suffrage


“Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment”


Reviewed by Stacy A. Cordery, Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of Women’s Studies, Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois, U.S.A. [email protected]

“Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment” is a wonderfully conceived, logically constructed website created by the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA, a federal agency, operates national archival depositories, preserves official records of the U.S. government, and maintains instructional websites as a courtesy to teachers. “Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment” briefly and succinctly tells the story of the agitation for the vote on the federal level in the United States from 1868 to the passage of the suffrage amendment in 1920.

The website is arranged, as are all NARA sites, around primary documents. The homepage provides a short overview of both the battle for the 19th amendment and the website itself. The student then clicks on one of the nine documents listed chronologically. All documents have been scanned, full text, into the website. One of the pedagogical advantages–beside the obvious one of the student being allowed to actually see the original source–is that the accompanying description of each document does not tell the full story. Student must read and analyze the document itself in order to grasp the nuances of the arguments. Written documents are augmented with period photographs which provide additional clues to the suffragists’ struggle. Every document includes a full NARA citation, down to the folder number, opening a way to teach about the importance of citing, or how to cite from archival sources.

The documents include the 1868 resolution proposing a woman’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution; an 1871 voting rights petition to the U.S. Congress; a memorial to Congress that helps illuminate the political split in the women’s movement; Susan B. Anthony’s eloquent statement of refusal to pay a fine for having voted; an 1877 petition demonstrating the involvement of African Americans in the movement; a 1917 request from the women of the Anti-Suffrage Party of New York imploring Congress to ignore pro-suffrage agitation; and ratification of the 19th Amendment, by Tennessee, which provided the final approval necessary for adoption.

The website is simple to navigate and needs no particular instruction by teachers. To assist student understanding of the importance of primary documents, NARA provides a valuable hotlink to a document analysis worksheet, which, if followed, might generate informed classroom discussion. Other hotlinks take students to the pithy but important Failure Is Impossible playscript. This augments the very general information provided on U.S. woman’s suffrage and might be used as background reading. Other links to classroom ideas will be more or less helpful depending upon the instructor’s facility with web-based assignments. The related sites will likely be of more use to the professor than the student. NARA has made easily accessible the fundamental documents of U.S. history, such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that will illuminate the tradition in which the suffragists stood as they fought for a voice and a vote in their government.

“Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment” offers rich potential for comparative women’s and legislative history. The website is thorough enough for non-U.S. students and professors to draw informed parallels across national borders and cultural differences. Classroom use could explore how women appropriated democratic strategies to re-frame gender in ways that enabled them to gain political power. Class, race, and societal expectations for women could easily be placed in a comparative context. Completely left out of the suffrage battle in the U.S. were Native Americans, and the exclusion of indigenous women might be fruitfully investigated in Australian and New Zealand suffrage history as well.

For a full listing, visit http://www.nara.gov/education/teaching