Story

Story Gallery
1. Leading the Way
Chapter One | 1790-1865
Sojourner Truth and the Rise of Women's Rights Activism
Portrait of Sojourner Truth
I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance, Carte de Visite, 1864. New-York Historical Society.
Picture
Portrait of Sojourner Truth
Portrait of Sojourner Truth
I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance, Carte de Visite, 1864. New-York Historical Society.

(1) The text reads: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." The term "shadow" referred to the photograph, which at that time was made using sunlight.

(2) Most 19th-century Americans expected women to focus on their homes and families. Most Black women, however, had to work. Selling portraits was one way Sojourner Truth supported herself.

(3) The famed public speaker poses with a knitting project, a book, and flowers to make the professional studio look like a home and emphasize her femininity.

Picturing Black Women

The story of the fight for women's voting rights begins with the story of Black women's fight for freedom from slavery. As part of their mission to be fully recognized as fellow citizens, Black women built on their work in the antislavery movement to lead the movement to win the vote.

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery as 'Isabella' in New York around 1797. In 1826, she escaped and renamed herself Sojourner Truth to reflect her new, independent life.

Truth became an antislavery reformer, publishing her memoir and traveling the country to share her story. In the 1860s, she was inspired by fellow activist Frederick Douglass to sell her portrait to challenge popular racist cartoons that mocked Black people. Truth used her pose, props, and dress to highlight her dignity and counter harmful stereotypes of Black women.
"I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay...We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much."
Quoted in Nell Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol
Sojourner Truth
Portrait of Sojourner Truth
Carte de visite photograph, 1864. The New York Public Library.
Picture
Portrait of Sojourner Truth
Portrait of Sojourner Truth
Carte de visite photograph, 1864. The New York Public Library.

(1) White suffragists did not acknowledge Truth as a women's rights leader in their histories or portraits, but civil rights advocates celebrated her even after her death.

(2) In 1938, civil rights activist Arthur Fauset wrote the biography, Sojourner Truth: God’s Faithful Pilgrim. He wanted her story to inspire new generations.

(3) Civil rights leaders made Truth into an icon of Black women's leadership, naming clubs after her, purchasing her portraits, and urging a new generation to continue her work.

(4) Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, even named her cat SoJo after the famed activist.

The Fight for Recognition

Just as Frederick Douglass inspired Sojourner Truth to sell her portrait, Truth inspired Susan B. Anthony to sell portraits of herself and other suffragists. However, in an attempt to gain the support of Southern politicians and white women, Anthony and many other white reformers refused to allow Black women to represent the face of the voting rights movement. Anthony never promoted Truth's portrait in her newspaper and excluded portraits of women of color from the History of Woman Suffrage series, a set of influential books that continue to shape our understanding of the movement today.
2. Time to Organize
Chapter Two | 1866-1917
Women Organize a National Movement to Fight for Equality
Portrait of Frances E. W. Harper
Halftone photograph published in Lawson Andrew Scruggs, Women of Distinction: Remarkable in Works and Invincible in Character, 1893. The New York Public Library.
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Portrait of Frances E. W. Harper
Portrait of Frances E. W. Harper
Halftone photograph published in Lawson Andrew Scruggs, Women of Distinction: Remarkable in Works and Invincible in Character, 1893. The New York Public Library.

(1) The 1893 book Women of Distinction includes portraits and biographies of remarkable Black women like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

(2) While other books celebrated white women in history, Women of Distinction was intended to inspire a generation rising from enslavement to fight for equality.

(3) In addition to Harper, the book featured the once enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley and activists Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Josephine Ruffin.

(4) The author, Lawson Andrew Scruggs, called Harper "a great and profound writer in both prose and poetry" and "a master-hand at whatever she applies herself."

Frances Harper Makes a Stand

The poet and novelist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born free in Maryland in 1825. By the 1830s, activists petitioned, wrote pamphlets, and hosted meetings to oppose slavery and win the vote for all citizens. Harper soon joined in. They advocated for equal pay, the right to own property, and access to education for every person. Harper soon joined these efforts.

After slavery was abolished, voting rights advocates founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 to secure the ballot for all, "irrespective of race, color, or sex." Harper gave a moving speech at the group's first meeting, urging them to confront prejudice based on race and gender.

However, this collaborative effort did not last. In 1869, the association split: Most members supported the 15th Amendment allowing Black men to vote, but some racist white women insisted that Black men should not be able to vote before they could.
"Society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul."
Address to the American Equal Rights Association meeting, 1866
Frances E.W. Harper
Portrait of Harriet Tubman
Engraving published in Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, 1869. New-York Historical Society.
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Portrait of Harriet Tubman
Portrait of Harriet Tubman
Engraving published in Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, 1869. New-York Historical Society.

(1) This portrait appeared in Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, which tells the story of Tubman's enslavement, escape, and work on the Underground Railroad.

(2) Tubman holds the barrel of a rifle. Similar to Sojourner Truth, she wears practical clothes that remind us of her work on the Underground Railroad and in the Civil War.

(3) During the Civil War, she coordinated Black spies and guided soldiers to disable a Confederate supply line. She never received a military pension for her work.

(4) Recently, a photograph of a young Tubman was discovered and is now housed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Harriet Tubman Leads the Way

As Black women, Sojourner Truth and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper were not allowed to hold leadership positions in the two national women's voting rights groups that emerged after the collapse of the American Equal Rights Association. They urged these groups to advocate for racial equality, but the leading organizations refused to address Black women's concerns beyond the vote.

As a result, Black women started to create their own groups to push for equality. In 1896, Harriet Tubman, former leader of the Underground Railroad, helped found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) to fight against racism and sexism. The NACW sought to end racial violence, improve communities, and win the vote for women.
Susan B. Anthony at Her Desk
Frances B. Johnston, Susan B. Anthony at Her Desk, taken in 1900, photograph, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
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Susan B. Anthony at Her Desk
Susan B. Anthony at Her Desk
Frances B. Johnston, Susan B. Anthony at Her Desk, taken in 1900, photograph, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

(1) The portraits in this photo feature women including Mary Wollstonecraft, Ernestine Rose, Lucretia Mott, Anna Dickinson, Anna Howard Shaw, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

(2) Susan B. Anthony had Sojourner Truth's portrait, but she did not distribute pictures of Truth or any Black women. As a result, their portraits are harder to find today.

(3) Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of the first professional female photographers, took this photograph of Anthony. She also photographed leaders like Theodore Roosevelt.

(4) Anthony, seen in profile, is posed like a political leader. Johnston highlighted the outline of her head by draping a dark cloth behind her.
Letter from Susan B. Anthony, 1904
Letter from Susan B. Anthony to D.C. Brisbin, letter, December 1, 1904. Gates Archive and Collections.
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Letter from Susan B. Anthony, 1904
Letter from Susan B. Anthony, 1904
Letter from Susan B. Anthony to D.C. Brisbin, letter, December 1, 1904. Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) In 1904, Susan B. Anthony wrote this note on the official letterhead of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which lists her as its Honorary President.

(2) The letterhead also names other leaders, including its then-President Anna Howard Shaw and activist Carrie Chapman Catt, who became the group's next president.

(3) Anthony lived with her sister Mary, who ran their household while she traveled and worked. The letter includes the address to their home in Rochester, New York.

(4) See the handwritten additions to the letter? Rather than re-typing the entire page, Anthony corrected grammar and added details by hand.

Susan B. Anthony's Suffragists

In 1890, the two voting rights groups led by white women merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The association allowed local clubs to exclude and discriminate against Black women and women of color. In 1904, Susan B. Anthony, a NAWSA official, wrote: "I think it is a shame and disgrace...to class women with felons, idiots, etc.," who could not vote. The "etc." subtly refers to Black men in the South, where racist laws and violent intimidation prevented them from voting.

Anthony shaped the voting rights movement's public image. While popular cartoons mocked female activists as masculine and unruly, she distributed portraits that represented them as dignified leaders. In 1900, she sat for this photograph, in which she was surrounded by portraits of other white activists. By showcasing portraits like these, she aimed to attract supporters to her cause. Thanks to Anthony, we have access to these pictures in museums. However, her choice not to distribute Black women's portraits means fewer of them made it into historical archives.
"...We are only coming to the front, willing to join any others in the same work and cordially inviting and welcoming any others to join us..."
Address to the First National Conference of Colored Women in America
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Portrait of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Halftone photograph published in Booker T. Washington, A New Negro for a New Century, 1900. Digital Public Library of America.
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Portrait of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Portrait of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Halftone photograph published in Booker T. Washington, A New Negro for a New Century, 1900. Digital Public Library of America.

(1) The famous civil rights leader Booker T. Washington featured this portrait of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin in his book A New Negro for a New Century, published in 1900.

(2) The book highlighted the achievements of Black leaders, including Ruffin, Mary Church Terrell, and W.E.B. DuBois, to advance racial equality.

(3) In her portrait, Ruffin wears glasses to signal her education. Her fine clothes and dignified posture convey her respectability.

(4) In the early 20th century, "Negro" was considered a respectful term for Black people. Later civil rights and Black Power activists rejected that term, and it is no longer used today.

Organizing Women of Color

In 1890, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin created The Woman's Era, a newspaper that connected Black women activists across the country.

Ruffin worked with groups led by white suffragists, but, because she faced discrimination from them, she also founded the Woman's Era Club in Boston to advocate against racism and sexism. Her work contributed to the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, which pressed for the voting rights of Black men and women.
Portrait of Mary Talbert
Halftone photograph published in Daniel Wallace Culp, Twentieth Century Negro in Literature, 1902. Digital Public Library of America.
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Portrait of Mary Talbert
Portrait of Mary Talbert
Halftone photograph published in Daniel Wallace Culp, Twentieth Century Negro in Literature, 1902. Digital Public Library of America.

(1) Mary Talbert raised money to purchase Frederick Douglass's home in Washington, D.C. and turn it into a historical site now run by the National Park Service.

(2) The book Twentieth Century Negro in Literature featured portraits of Talbert and other Black leaders such as Josephine Silone Yates and George Washington Carver.

(3) Talbert wears an elegant dress against a decorative backdrop. Her fine clothes, elaborate hairstyle, and setting in a professional studio signal her status.

(4) The frame illustrates the shift from slavery on the left to new opportunities for Black Americans on the right. This change occurs under the watchful eye of an American eagle.

Respectability Politics and Power

Histories of women's voting rights often overlook the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Although the group did not list women’s voting rights as a priority at its founding, members elected a suffragist, Mary Church Terrell, to be their first president. They advocated for the ballot and fought against Black men's disfranchisement.

In 1916, the group elected Mary Talbert as president. That same year she became a vice president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to further her work for gender and racial equity.

NACW members tended to be educated and well-off. Many wanted to demonstrate that they were respectable women because they believed it would advance equality for Black people.
"Some women make themselves teachers, but Mrs. Talbert was a born teacher."
Daniel Wallace Culp
Letter from the New Jersey Men's League of Women's Suffrage, 1915.
Gates Archive and Collections.
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Letter from the New Jersey Men's League of Women's Suffrage, 1915.
Letter from the New Jersey Men's League of Women's Suffrage, 1915.
Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) Women in some states won the vote long before the 19th Amendment. The 1915 referendum in New Jersey was one of many state campaigns.

(2) The National American Woman Suffrage Association was composed of numerous smaller local groups like the Equal Suffrage League of the Northern Jersey Shore.

(3) The New Jersey Men's League Chairman offered to send his members to watch the polls and make sure the election was fairly managed.

Men Fight for Women's Rights

Men, too, played a role in advocating for women's suffrage.

For example, in 1848, James Mott and Frederick Douglass participated in the women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York (Douglass was the only Black person—male or female—who we know attended). Men also delivered speeches, lobbied for policy changes, and helped to form organizations like the New Jersey Men's League of Women's Suffrage. Despite the men's activism referred to in this letter, New Jersey was one of several states that voted against granting women the vote in 1915.
3. Activists Protest
Chapter Three | 1910-1919
Women Develop New Strategies to Fight for the Vote
Women's Suffrage Parade
Photograph, 1913. Gates Archive and Collections.
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Women's Suffrage Parade
Women's Suffrage Parade
Photograph, 1913. Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) Parades were made up of different sections, including college graduates, nurses, and immigrants. They aimed to show that women from various backgrounds wanted the vote.

(2) Activists designed costumes for each section, made banners, and wore colorful sashes to create a spectacle that newspapers would want to cover.

(3) Like many of the pussy hats crafted for the Women’s March in 2017, suffragists crafted these items by hand using shared patterns.

(4) In this photograph, crowds peacefully watch the parade. Sometimes, however, suffragists faced violence. After a 1913 parade, 100 marchers went to the hospital.

Women Take to the Streets

After decades of signing petitions and holding meetings, women's voting rights advocates tried new tactics to bring attention to their cause.

Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of voting rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, organized the first women’s voting rights parades in New York City starting in 1910. Marchers wore costumes and sewed banners to turn their protests into eye-catching events. These protests made news and helped win supporters.

Some women of color joined these marches, including Black suffragist Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Chinese suffragist Mabel Ping-Hua Lee. Nina Otero-Warren organized fellow women of Spanish descent to march in New Mexico. However, women of color faced a greater risk of violence from volatile crowds.
"Woman's cause is man's. They rise or fall together.."
Message on a banner from a 1913 suffrage parade, Digital Public Library of America
"Nannie Burroughs Holds Banner"
Photograph, 1905-1915. Library of Congress.
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"Nannie Burroughs Holds Banner"
"Nannie Burroughs Holds Banner"
Photograph, 1905-1915. Library of Congress.

(1) These women are well dressed and wear hats decorated with ribbons and flowers. Members of Black clubs tended to be middle- and upper-class women.

(2) Many photographs of marching suffragists were taken by professional photographers. This photograph is more intimate and was perhaps taken in someone's backyard.

(3) Many light-skinned Black Americans had white ancestors, often the owners of their Black ancestors.

(4) Some light-skinned Black women, such as Mary Church Terrell, strategically passed as white to avoid discrimination. When they did, they feared discovery and violence.

Nannie Burroughs Raises the Banner

Despite the risks to their safety, some Black women organized public protests and marched in parades.

In this photograph, Nannie Helen Burroughs stands on the left with her elegant banner, perhaps after marching in a parade. The banner is for the Women's Convention, which Burroughs founded in 1900 as part of the National Baptist Convention. These Black Baptist women performed charity and missionary work to support their communities.

Burroughs also participated in the National Association of Colored Women. Many of its members sought to defy stereotypes that depicted Black women as "unruly." Yet, to appear "respectable" required conforming to popular white ideals of femininity.
Portrait of Harriot Stanton Blatch
Newspaper clipping, ca. 1910s, Gates Archives and Collections.
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Portrait of Harriot Stanton Blatch
Portrait of Harriot Stanton Blatch
Newspaper clipping, ca. 1910s, Gates Archives and Collections.

(1) Harriot Stanton Blatch's portrait appears alongside an article about the famous suffragist Inez Milholland.

(2) In 1907, Blatch founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women. Inspired by labor activists, she organized the first suffrage parade in 1910 in New York City.

(3) Blatch was the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who wrote the Declaration of Sentiments for the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.

(4) The Library of Congress has a photograph of Elizabeth Cady Stanton holding Harriot when she was a baby. Harriot was one of Stanton's seven children.
"Suffrage Parade, Inez Milholland"
Photograph, 1913, Library of Congress.
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"Suffrage Parade, Inez Milholland"
"Suffrage Parade, Inez Milholland"
Photograph, 1913, Library of Congress.

(1) Inez Milholland dressed as a herald who will save the day, wearing a tiara and white cape and sitting astride a white horse.

(2) Numerous newspapers printed photographs like this one. By the 1910s, photographs could be sent via telegraph wires for printing across the country.

(3) Professional photographers also printed her photograph on postcards, an extremely popular medium in the early 20th century.

(4) In 1916, the 30-year-old Milholland collapsed during a speech and died. Suffragists remembered her as a martyr for the cause.

The "Most Beautiful" Suffragist

Many suffragists were middle and upper-class women, but Harriot Stanton Blatch recruited working women into the movement and organized the first parades based on labor protests and British suffrage processions.

Leading organizations selected white women like lawyer Inez Milholland to represent them in press photographs. She was featured in several parades, including Washington, D.C.'s first one in 1913. The Washington Post called her the "most beautiful suffragist." Activists sought to counter stereotypes of political women as masculine. (As part of that, they emphasized heteronormativity, hiding the queer relationships of many of the movement's leaders).

Behind the scenes of the 1913 parade, Milholland helped to convince the parade's leaders to allow women of color to march.
"I come as a messenger from the disenfranchised women of the nation. We are asking you to set us free."
Inez Milholland
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Sallie E. Garrity, Portrait of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Photograph, ca. 1893. National Portrait Gallery.
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Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Sallie E. Garrity, Portrait of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Photograph, ca. 1893. National Portrait Gallery.

(1) In this portrait from the 1890s, Ida B. Wells-Barnett looks into the distance. This pose was common among leaders and suggested that she was thinking of future plans.

(2) Wells-Barnett wears a fashionable dress covered in lace and fine beads with a simple, elegant pin to emphasize her respectability.

(3) Sallie E. Garrity, who took this photo, was among the first female professional photographers. She opened a studio in Louisville, Kentucky and later moved it to Chicago.

(4) In 2020, Wells-Barnett was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize citation for her "courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans."

Ida B. Wells-Barnett Marches

Black women including Ida B. Wells-Barnett marched in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. Wells-Barnett joined the delegation of women from her home state of Illinois. Black women from Howard University marched with other college students in integrated sections too. Alice Paul, the parade's organizer, had wanted to segregate the parade, but Black activists refused to march separately.

Wells-Barnett, a journalist, was famous for calling attention to the lynchings of Black people. In 1913, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club to organize Black women and elect Black officials in Chicago. Throughout her career as an activist, she urged white women to join her in fighting for Black women's rights.
"The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them."
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Portrait of Alice Paul
Edith Derwent, Portrait of Alice Paul, newspaper clipping, ca. 1919, Gates Archive and Collections.
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Portrait of Alice Paul
Portrait of Alice Paul
Edith Derwent, Portrait of Alice Paul, newspaper clipping, ca. 1919, Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) In her portrait, Alice Paul sits with her hands in her lap and looks straight at the viewer. The photograph was cut from a newspaper, probably for a scrapbook.

(2) Paul grew up as a Quaker, a religious group that valued gender equality, especially in education. She earned a PhD in economics and a law degree.

(3) Paul protested with militant suffragists in Britain, where she met fellow American Lucy Burns. When they returned to America, they organized the 1913 parade.

(4) After the 19th Amendment's ratification, Paul spent the rest of her life fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment to prohibit discrimination based on sex.

Picketing the White House

Suffragists staged protests to attract press and public attention. In 1917, Alice Paul and her National Woman's Party organized the first-ever pickets in front of the White House, turning it into a vital location for dissent.

One publicity professional told her to select "six of your prettiest pickets" to be photographed. The pictures do not feature suffragists of color. Paul believed she would win more supporters if the face of her movement was white.
Votes for Women Pin, 1915
Gates Archive and Collections.
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Votes for Women Pin, 1915
Votes for Women Pin, 1915
Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) Women in Kansas, the "Sunflower State," voted in city elections starting in 1887. To celebrate, suffragists adopted the flower as one of their logos and yellow as their color.

(2) Anti-suffrage pins and propaganda often featured red or pink as their color. Activists and politicians wore red or yellow roses to signal which side they supported.

Making a Statement with Pins

Whether they were picketing, attending meetings, or lobbying officials, suffragists wore pins to support their cause. They also sold them to raise money for their work. Some pins feature portraits of women's voting rights leaders, while others have colorful designs and slogans.

This pin likely came from a campaign to secure the ballot for women at the state level. By 1915, women could vote in all elections in 11 states, mostly Western ones. Activists hoped that if more states allowed women to vote, they would be able to pass a constitutional amendment. The rising sun on this pin represents optimism for a more equal future.
Portrait of Mary Church Terrell
Halftone Photograph, 1910, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.
Picture
Portrait of Mary Church Terrell
Portrait of Mary Church Terrell
Halftone Photograph, 1910, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

(1) This portrait is from an advertisement for Mary Church Terrell's lectures. The booklet's other pages note that she is "specially gifted in speech."

(2) Terrell loved fine clothes and hats and often wore them in her portraits. She said wanted to prove "false" the popular cartoons that mocked educated women as "bad-looking."

(3) She believed that Black women needed to look elegant. Most Americans were prejudiced, and she hoped that Black women could help change their minds through their appearances.

(4) Terrell fought for equality her entire life. Even in her 80s, Terrell picketed segregated restaurants and lobbied Congress for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Mary Church Terrell: Lifelong Activist

In 1917, Mary Church Terrell participated in the first ever pickets of the White House with her daughter. One of the first Black women to earn a bachelor's degree, she was also elected the first president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.

After the 19th Amendment's passage, Terrell encouraged leading suffrage organizations to help challenge the various poll taxes and other laws passed by Southern states that blocked Black voters, male and female. They refused, arguing that gender equality, not civil rights, was their mission.
"Lifting as we climb onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping."
Speech before the National American Women's Suffrage Association, 1898
Mary Church Terrell
Together for Home and Family
Rose O'Neill Poster, 1915. New-York Historical Society.
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Together for Home and Family
Together for Home and Family
Rose O'Neill Poster, 1915. New-York Historical Society.

(1) Suffragists often hired professional female artists. Rose O'Neill, famous for her Kewpie doll design, created this poster for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

(2) O'Neill's design features suffrage yellow as the background. The female figure points the way out to a man, presumably her husband, to suggest that she knows best.

(3) The poster says to vote yes on November 2, 1915 in New York's referendum. The date was updated to November 6 for the referendum in 1917. That year, suffragists won.

(4) The National American Woman Suffrage Association printed numerous posters featuring white women, but they did not include Black women in their materials.

"Ideal" Suffrage Mothers

By the 1910s, the National American Woman Suffrage Association had its own publishing company, national press committees, and publicity professionals to design campaign images.

White suffrage leaders believed that they would win support for women's voting rights by making the case that middle- and upper-class white mothers would contribute their expertise about the home to politics. The association's campaign suggested that women would use their votes to support policies that were good for children and families. As part of this campaign, the association sold posters to clubs across the country, which, in turn, pasted them onto buildings, hung them across streets, and posted them in shop windows.
Marching on Tremont Street
Photograph, 1914, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.
Picture
Marching on Tremont Street
Marching on Tremont Street
Photograph, 1914, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

(1) Massachusetts suffragists marched in Boston in 1914 (pictured here) and in 1915. Despite their efforts, they did not win the vote until the 19th Amendment's passage.

(2) Crowds of people gathered to see the suffragists march. Though it's common for women to march today, it was unusual a century ago.

(3) Suffragists wore white dresses in many of their public protests. Sometimes they purchased them from stores, but they also bought patterns to make their own.

(4) Marchers wanted the press to photograph them. The white dresses helped them show up well in the black-and-white photographs printed in newspapers.

Marching Together for the Vote

In 1914, women's voting rights activists marched in Boston, Massachusetts. This photograph of their parade features a Black woman marching in the bottom left. Most likely, many more women of color participated that day.

This is one of the few photographs of a Black woman in a suffrage parade. Suffrage groups led by white women had press committees to select photographs to send to newspapers. These groups did not want women of color to represent their cause because they believed they would lose support.
"Objections Answered"
Alice Stone Blackwell, pamphlet, 1915. Gates Archive and Collections.
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"Objections Answered"
"Objections Answered"
Alice Stone Blackwell, pamphlet, 1915. Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) Alice Stone Blackwell was the daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Brown Blackwell, both of whom helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869.

(2) Her parents edited Woman's Journal, the longest running women's suffrage newspaper. She edited the paper after they died and continued their fight.

(3) The National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company printed the pamphlet in November 1915 when activists were campaigning in several states, including New York.

Countering Anti-Suffragists

For most of U.S. history, the majority of Americans opposed allowing women to vote. They argued that a woman’s husband represented her in the public sphere and that women should focus on housekeeping.

Anti-suffragists dominated government positions and the press. Their position was so widespread at first that they did not need formal organizations. It wasn't until the 1890s, when the women's voting rights movement gained momentum, that male and female opponents of suffrage decided to organize.

Alice Stone Blackwell, a second-generation suffragist, knew the arguments that her opponents made. In 1915, she wrote this pamphlet, "Objections Answered," to help fellow supporters make their case for women's right to vote.
"Justice would be worth more to women than chivalry."
Objections Answered, 1915
Alice Stone Blackwell
"Objections Answered"
Alice Stone Blackwell, pamphlet, 1915. Gates Archive and Collections.
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"Objections Answered"
"Objections Answered"
Alice Stone Blackwell, pamphlet, 1915. Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) Anti-suffragists argued that women had special privileges and did not want to be equal to men. Here, Alice Stone Blackwell states that chivalry is less valuable than equality.

(2) Blackwell declares that her opponents are corrupt. Suffragists disapproved of the alliance between anti-suffragists and alcohol lobbyists, who feared women would ban drinking.

(3) Opponents believed that women were "too emotional" to vote. The pamphlet includes a quote arguing that some emotions, like loyalty, are in fact vital to good government.

Arguments Against the Vote

To counter anti-suffragists' arguments, Alice Stone Blackwell listed the most popular objections to women's voting rights. For example, anti-suffrage women argued that men represented them in politics. They believed it was a privilege to be able to focus on their families and homes and did not want to participate in the male political world. Read more about arguments made against women's voting rights in this excerpt from "Objections Answered."

Some of the arguments that Alice Stone Blackwell wrote about in 1915 remain part of today's debates about women's rights.
Nina Allender Illustration, "Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?"
Published on the cover of The Suffragist, November 3, 1917. Gates Archive and Collections.
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Nina Allender Illustration, "Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?"
Nina Allender Illustration, "Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?"
Published on the cover of The Suffragist, November 3, 1917. Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) This cartoon by Nina Allender asks viewers to feel sympathy for the imprisoned activists. Rather than portrayed as unruly criminals, they are depicted as respectable ladies.

(2) Allender trained as an artist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, one of the first American art schools to admit women.

(3) Allender worked with the National Woman's Party for years and often drew for The Suffragist, the group's weekly newspaper. She was their official cartoonist.

(4) The Suffragist featured this illustration on its cover in November 1917. The newspaper kept readers up to date on the latest campaigns for women's right to vote.

Cartoons for the Vote

In January 1917, the National Woman's Party started picketing the White House. Some suffragists called these protests unpatriotic, especially since the United States entered World War I that month. In June, some picketers were arrested and sent to a workhouse. To draw attention to the cause of suffrage, Alice Paul ensured that professional photographers took pictures of the white picketers and sent them to the press. Although Mary Church Terrell, former president of the National Association of Colored Women, joined the pickets, she wasn't included in the photographs.

Nina Allender, the artist for the National Woman’s Party, called attention to the arrests too. In her illustration, the jailed women look longingly at the viewers and ask the president to support their cause.
"Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?"
Illustration for The Suffragist, 1917
Nina Allender
Lifting as We Climb, banners, ca. 1924
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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Lifting as We Climb, banners, ca. 1924
Lifting as We Climb, banners, ca. 1924
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

(1) This banner features the National Association of Colored Women's motto: "Lifting as We Climb." The members hoped to improve Black communities.

(2) The regal purple cloth is decorated with gold paint and fringe, colors associated with the National Association of Colored Women.

(3) The banner was likely made by hand and was owned by the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.

(4) Members might have carried the banner in parades or displayed it in their headquarters. Today, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has it.
Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women, banners, ca. 1924
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women, banners, ca. 1924
Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women, banners, ca. 1924
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

(1) The Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women's Clubs designed this banner. The state club was part of the larger National Association of Colored Women.

(2) The regal purple cloth is decorated with gold paint and fringe, colors associated with the National Association of Colored Women.

(3) The banner was likely made by hand, possibly by the members of the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women's Clubs who owned it.

(4) Members might have carried the banner in parades or displayed it in their headquarters. Today, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has it.

Banners Spread the Message

The National Association of Colored Women discouraged members from picketing the White House. The organization embraced marching but rejected picketing as too militant. Instead, the group aimed to educate its members about the vote and to live up to its motto: "Lifting As We Climb."

The group's newsletter in January 1917 noted: "We hope that America is not to have the Militant Suffragettes. Let us get what we want in another way." They did not want to be depicted as unruly protesters in the press and likely feared that, as Black women, its members might face racially motivated violence.
4. The Ongoing Fight
Chapter Four | 1920-2020
The Nineteenth Amendment Didn't Grant All Women the Vote
"A Cartoon from England"
Published on the cover of The Suffragist, June 27, 1914. Gates Archive and Collections.
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"A Cartoon from England"
"A Cartoon from England"
Published on the cover of The Suffragist, June 27, 1914. Gates Archive and Collections.

(1) Suffrage images often included the female figure of justice. In this picture, she presents the "appeal of womanhood"—that all women should "Dare to Be Free."

(2) In the background, a group of women seek justice. They are hunched over, suggesting that they are oppressed. The lady justice is their hope.

(3) American suffragists often worked with British ones. They used their images too—like this one. The National Woman's Party reprinted it in their newspaper.

The 19th Amendment as a Victory

In 1919, Congress finally approved the 19th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state and final state needed to ratify the amendment. That November, millions of women registered and voted in the presidential election for the first time.

While the 19th Amendment was a milestone, it did not guarantee all women the vote. Although it prohibits voter discrimination based on sex, some states found other ways to limit access to the ballot. For example, in the 1890s, Southern states started requiring voters to take unreasonable literacy tests and pay poll taxes to keep Black people from participating in elections. Violent intimidation by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan also kept Black people from the polls.

Black women in the South, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and Puerto Rican women, kept fighting for the vote.
"Our message to Women of All Nations 'Dare to be Free'"
June 27, 2914 edition
The Suffragist
Portrait of Hallie Quinn Brown
Published in William A. Joiner, A Half Century of Freedom of the Negro in Ohio, 1915. The New York Public Library.
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Portrait of Hallie Quinn Brown
Portrait of Hallie Quinn Brown
Published in William A. Joiner, A Half Century of Freedom of the Negro in Ohio, 1915. The New York Public Library.

(1) Hallie Quinn Brown became one of the first Black women to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1873. She taught, authored seven books, and delivered lectures in the U.S. and Europe.

(2) In her portrait, Brown looks into the distance while wearing pearls and an elegant dress and hairstyle to emphasize her role as a respectable leader.

(3) A Half Century of Freedom of the Negro in Ohio, published in 1915, celebrates the successes of Black people like Brown to inspire progress toward racial equality.

(4) The book featured Brown because she was a commissioner for the state’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Still Fighting for the Vote

As president of the National Association of Colored Women from 1920 to 1924, Hallie Quinn Brown encouraged members to continue working to secure voting rights for all women.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed literacy tests, poll taxes, and other discriminatory laws, enfranchising many people of color in the South. However, every time a barrier to voting rights is torn down, another seems to go up. Today, some states limit voting rights by requiring voters to show state-issued identification cards and stripping voting rights from people who have been convicted of a felony-disproportionately people of color.
"Bring U.S. Together. Vote Chisholm 1972, Unbought and Unbossed"
1972, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
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"Bring U.S. Together. Vote Chisholm 1972, Unbought and Unbossed"
"Bring U.S. Together. Vote Chisholm 1972, Unbought and Unbossed"
1972, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

(1) Long before Shirley Chisholm entered politics, she was a civil rights and women's rights activist. She was a member of the League of Women Voters and the Urban League.

(2) Chisholm started her political career as a representative in New York's legislature. She forged a path for other women and people of color to run for office.

(3) While in the House of Representatives, Chisholm advocated for policies to create a more equal America, including a measure to provide free and subsidized school lunches.

(4) Her campaign slogan, "Unbought and Unbossed," underscored her independence. Chisholm used the phrase as the title of her autobiography.
Shirley Chisholm Button
Pin-back button, 1972, Columbia Advertising Company, Gift of Patricia Falk, 2002.30.7
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Shirley Chisholm Button
Shirley Chisholm Button
Pin-back button, 1972, Columbia Advertising Company, Gift of Patricia Falk, 2002.30.7

(1) Chisholm didn't win the presidency, but she did call attention to enduring injustices. This button advertises her as a "catalyst for change."

(2) Some white women's rights activists and Black male politicians opposed Chisholm's candidacy because they feared a Black female candidate was too controversial.

(3) Chisholm held her position in the House of Representatives from 1968 through 1983. After she left office, she helped co-found the National Political Congress of Black Women.

Beyond the Vote

In 1923, the National Woman's Party proposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to win gender equality. Mary Church Terrell testified before congressional committees in favor of the ERA. Almost 50 years later, a new generation of advocates, including Shirley Chisholm, renewed the push for the ERA.

In 1968, Chisholm became the first Black woman in Congress. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination from a major political party.

That same year, Congress approved the ERA and sent it to the states for ratification. A movement of conservative women-fearing that it threatened their privileges as wives and mothers-lobbied against it. They won.

Congress required states to ratify the ERA by 1982, but some argue the time limit was unconstitutional. In 2020, Virginia ratified the ERA, giving the amendment the support required to become part of the Constitution. The House of Representatives voted to extend the deadline, but the Senate has yet to do so.
"Unbought and Unbossed"
Shirley Chisholm
Truth Be Told offers only a small glimpse into the incredible work that Black women and many others have done to secure the vote for all Americans. We encourage you to continue exploring stories of the suffrage movement through our 'Learn More' page.

As we mark the 19th Amendment's centennial, let's also reflect on the unfinished business of equality and how each of us can play a role in continuing this important work.

To learn more about the artifacts and where they came from, visit the Learn More page.

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