Essays on a Blog: The Suff Buffs: Your Not So Average Herstory Series

On March 11, 2020, the US Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission launched its “The Suff Buffs Blog,” a series of monthly essays by noted suffrage historians exploring various aspects of the history of women and the vote. Through this new blog series, the WSCC intends to “bring you the extraordinary stories of women’s fight for their right to vote, written by the country’s leading suffrage historians.”


How Native American Women Inspired the Women’s Rights Movement

By Sally Roesch Wagner

“Never was justice more perfect; never was civilization higher,” suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote about the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, whose territory extended throughout New York State.

Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Battles for Liberty

By Tina Cassidy

President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s train pulled into Washington’s Union Station on March 3, 1913. It was a day that launched an epic eight-year, David-and-Goliath struggle between Alice Paul and Wilson over the very definition of democracy and American values…

By Susan Ware

Mormon women’s status as polygamous female voters thrust the national women’s suffrage movement into the center of one of the most far-reaching political and legal questions of its day.

A Noble Endeavor: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Suffrage

By Paula J. Giddings

On the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was in a Washington, D.C. drill rehearsal hall with sixty-four other Illinois suffragists. . .

The Great Suffrage Parade of 1913

By Rebecca Boggs Roberts

On the afternoon of March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as the nation’s 28th president, thousands of suffragists gathered near the Garfield monument in front of the U.S. Capitol …

The Prequel: Women’s Suffrage Before 1848

By Johanna Neuman

Most suffrage histories begin in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. While Seneca Falls remains an important marker, women had been agitating for this basic right of citizenship even before …

“Failure is Impossible!” The Battle for the Ballot

By Winnifred Conkling 

Harry T. Burn had a secret. Everyone assumed he was an “anti,” meaning he would vote against ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote …

How Susan B. Anthony Became the Most Recognizable Suffragist

By Allison K. Lange

Over a century after her death, many even recognize her picture. In 1979, she became the first woman whose portrait appeared on a circulating coin in the United States. How did Anthony’s face become so visible?

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee: How Chinese-American Women Helped Shape the Suffrage Movement

By Cathleen D. Cahill

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was a feminist pioneer. She was the first Chinese woman in the United States to earn her doctorate and an advocate for the rights of women and the Chinese community in America.

Jeannette Rankin: One Woman, One Vote

By Winnifred Conkling

Only one woman in American history – Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin – ever cast a ballot in support of the 19th Amendment. In 1916, Rankin represented the citizens of Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives, and she wanted American women nationwide to enjoy the benefits of suffrage.

Suffragette & Suffragist: The Influence of the British Suffrage Movement

By Susan Philpott

“I am what you call a Hooligan,” Emmeline Pnakhurst announced to the standing-room only crowd of women packed into Carnegie Hall in October 1909. The American suffrage and labor activists in attendance cheered as Mrs. Pankhurst regaled the audience with stories about the fight to win the vote for British women.
Mary McLeod Bethune, True Democracy, and the Fight for Universal Suffrage

By Ida E. Jones 

Mary McLeod Bethune — educator, club woman, and stateswoman — asserted the universality of equality in and through all things. Her contributions to the women’s suffrage movement were evident in her rhetoric challenging American society to become a true democracy.

Fraught Friendship: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

By Ann D. Gordon

Throughout the tumultuous second half of the nineteenth century, these friends, nearly the same age, butted heads more than once. Because they were people of strong convictions, their pursuits sometimes overlapped and sometimes collided.

The Very Queer History of the Suffrage Movement

By Wendy Rouse

When lawyer and suffragist Gail Laughlin discovered that her evening gown had no pockets in it, she refused to wear it until the pockets were sewn on. Objecting to the restrictive nature of women’s clothing was just one of the ways that suffragists sought to upend the status quo in the early twentieth century.

Should We Care What the Men Did?

By Brooke Kroeger

Imagine what it must have meant for “the thinking men of our country, the brains of our colleges, of commerce and literature,” in suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt’s phrase, to involve themselves with such gusto in a campaign designed to dilute their preeminence at the ballot box.


By Cathleen D. Cahill

New Mexico’s Hispanic women’s advocacy of suffrage and their work with the National Woman’s Party reminds us that Spanish was also a language of suffrage. Armed with economic security and the political clout of long-established Spanish-speaking families, New Mexico’s Hispanic women represented a formidable political force.

By Lori D. Ginzberg

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the leading activist-intellectual of the nineteenth-century movement that demanded women’s rights, including the right to education, property, and a voice in public life.

By Mary Walton

Born January 11, 1885, in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, Paul was the daughter of strict Quakers, raised in a home where music was forbidden. It remains a mystery how such a sheltered young woman could burst so suddenly into the wider world, driven by a fierce craving to transform society.abeth Cady Stanton was the leading activist-intellectual of the nineteenth-century movement that demanded women’s rights, including the right to education, property, and a vote.

suffragette & suffragist: The Influence of the british suffrage movement

By Susan Philpott

“I am what you call a hooligan,” Emmeline Pankhurst announced to the standing-room only crowd of women packed into Carnegie Hall in October 1909. Hundreds more gathered outside, hoping to hear the famous “suffragette” speak.


By Alison M. Parker

Born into slavery in Memphis, Tennessee during the Civil War, Mary Church Terrell became a civil rights activist and suffrage leader. Coming of age during and after Reconstruction, she understood through her own lived experiences that African-American women of all classes faced similar problems, and she worked tirelessly for racial justice and gender equality.

“To the wrongs that need resistance:” Carrie Chapman Catt’s Lifelong Fight for Women’s Suffrage

Laurel Bower and Kathleen Grathwol

When Carrie Lane Chapman Catt was 13-years-old and living in rural Charles City, Iowa, she witnessed something that would help to decide the course of her life. Her family was politically active and on Election Day in 1872, Carrie’s father and some of the male hired help were getting ready to head into town to vote. She asked her mother why she wasn’t getting dressed to go too. Her parents laughingly explained to their daughter that women couldn’t vote.

Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša): Advocate for the “Indian Vote”

By Cathleen D. Cahill

The story of Indigenous women’s participation in the struggle for women’s suffrage is highly complex, and Zitkala-Ša’s story provides an illuminating example.

“The Forgotten Suffragists”

Kimberly A. Hamlin (@professorhamlin), an NEH Public Scholar and associate professor of history and American Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, wrote for the Spring 2019 issue of Humanities, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The article is about the opportunity the suffrage centennial provides “”to reflect on the stories we tell about ourselves as a nation, and to consider whose contributions we remember and whose we don’t.  No one understood the political importance of historical memory better than the leaders of NAWSA and the NWP, whose competing, yet equally limited, versions of history have shaped how the story of the Nineteenth Amendment has been told, to the extent that it has been told at all.” One of her focuses is the little-remembered Helen Hamilton Gardener, whose biography she has written. W.W. Norton will publish it in March 2020. You can read Professor Hamlin’s article here. or just below. It was originally published as “The Forgotten Suffragists” on May 31, 2019, in Humanities magazine, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

Digital Feature

The Forgotten Suffragists

How the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment is being remembered and how, for decades, it was not. | Posted May 31, 2019


HUMANITIES, Spring 2019, Volume 40, Number 2

In early June 1919, suffragists from around the country traveled to Washington, D.C., to sit silently in the Senate chamber as men prepared to vote on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment for the third time in less than a year. The previous two attempts to pass the amendment had failed to meet the required two-thirds majority, first by two votes in October 1918 and then by one vote in February 1919. As temperatures crested 90 degrees on the afternoon of June 4, Senate opponents ranted about states’ rights and proposed various counter-amendments to hinder ratification. The women shifted anxiously in their seats. Finally, after hours of debate, the vote was called.


Columbia and other suffragists



As the senators’ names were read in alphabetical order, the women checked each vote against the tallies they had painstakingly tabulated over many months. When they got through the C’s, Maud Wood Park, chair of the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) Congressional Committee, no longer had to consult her list. She knew it all by heart. Every affirmative vote was cast as promised. After three generations of activism, the Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, 56 yeas to 25 nays, with two votes to spare. The New York Times reported that the gallery broke out into two straight minutes of “deafening applause.” The celebrations were short-lived, however, as suffrage leaders turned immediately to ratification and the no less urgent matter of securing their legacy.



For the next several months, Park, Helen Hamilton Gardener, and their NAWSA colleagues vied with their nemesis, Alice Paul and her National Woman’s Party (NWP), to take credit for the congressional passage and to ensure that their respective versions of suffrage history would prevail. Since splitting in 1914, the NAWSA and the NWP (initially called the Congressional Union) had pursued contrasting paths to the vote. The NAWSA worked closely with President Woodrow Wilson and remained strictly nonpartisan. The NWP staged protests at the White House and elsewhere, and campaigned against Democrats (the party in power). For their increasingly bold tactics, NWP members were imprisoned in filthy, substandard facilities where they suffered multiple abuses, including forced feedings. Some members of Congress vowed to oppose the Nineteenth Amendment because NWP members picketed the commander-in-chief during a war; NAWSA leaders denounced the NWP upstarts, fearing their protests hindered the chances of congressional passage. After June 4, each organization claimed priority for what was, in retrospect, a shared victory brought about by the labors of generations of women.

A shared fear that the nation would ultimately grant the suffrage movement scant historical attention heightened the rivalry between the NWP and the NAWSA. If only one or two names would be remembered, each group wanted to ensure it was one of their own. The NAWSA and the NWP arranged competing celebrations and press events, including separate ceremonies, in August 1920, for Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby to sign the Nineteenth Amendment into law after it had been ratified by 36 states. To avoid entering this skirmish, Colby signed the historic document by himself at home.

Today, the names, faces, and organizational affiliations of these women are long forgotten. The suffrage centennial promises to reintroduce us to several of them, including Gardener, and to remind us of their triumphs and failures. The anniversary also provides an opportunity to reflect on the stories we tell about ourselves as a nation, and to consider whose contributions we remember and whose we don’t.  No one understood the political importance of historical memory better than the leaders of NAWSA and the NWP, whose competing, yet equally limited, versions of history have shaped how the story of the Nineteenth Amendment has been told, to the extent that it has been told at all.


The Awakening

The Awakening by Henry Mayer, symbolizes the nation’s women’s desire for suffrage, coming from the western states, where women first had the right to vote. Printed in Puck, February 20, 1915.

—Library of Congress


Within days of congressional passage, NAWSA leaders secured a commitment from the Smithsonian to mount the first permanent exhibit on suffrage history—by which they meant NAWSA history. In various letters to Smithsonian officials, the women clarified that this exhibit must not mention in any way, shape, or form the NWP or Alice Paul. And it did not occur to them to include the contributions of the countless women who worked for the vote beyond NAWSA—especially women of color, who were generally shunned by both the NAWSA and the NWP.

The Smithsonian accepted the NAWSA artifacts—consisting of Susan B. Anthony’s portrait (which the museum had refused as of “no special interest” just the year before), Anthony’s red shawl, and a few other mementos—and arranged them on the small table on which Elizabeth Cady Stanton had drafted the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848. But the museum downplayed the significance of the small exhibit, titling it simply “An Important Epoch in American History.”

Incensed that NAWSA appeared to be winning the battle for memory, Alice Paul immediately began planning what she hoped would be an even more substantial testament to the suffrage movement. She commissioned Adelaide Johnson—who became known as the “sculptor of suffrage” after she crafted busts of Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago—to recreate her sculptures of the three pioneers. Though Anthony and Stanton had led NAWSA, Paul believed that she was their rightful heir.

Paul aimed to place the busts in the Capitol Rotunda in celebration of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. After suffering an improbable series of mishaps—from cracked marble to earthquakes to railroad strikes—Johnson completed her statue in Italy and shipped it back to America just in time for the elaborate ceremony Paul had organized.

But congressional approval proved trickier than Paul had anticipated, as Sandra Weber details in The Woman Suffrage Statue. In part, this was because Johnson decided to sculpt Anthony, Stanton, and Mott together in a single marble monument weighing more than seven tons. Such an enormous statue—called the Portrait Monument—complicated transportation and placement. Congressional leaders worried that the floor of the Rotunda could not support such a heavy statue. Others questioned the Portrait Monument’s artistic merit, dubbing it “Three Ladies in a Bathtub.”

Carrie Chapman Catt, the former president of NAWSA, added her own disapproval. She urged Congress to refuse the statue—not so much for its artistry but because she did not want Alice Paul to have occasion to gloat in the Capitol that the NWP had delivered the Nineteenth Amendment.

Finally, after the statue had languished just outside the Capitol for several days, the Joint Library Committee agreed to let the Portrait Monument be unveiled in the Rotunda. On February 15, 1921, the one hundred and first birthday of Susan B. Anthony, thousands of women crammed into the Rotunda for this historic occasion, and thousands more lined up outside. Various speakers declared the Portrait Monument a permanent reminder not only of women’s long struggle for the vote but also of their new status as equal citizens. As with NAWSA’s Smithsonian exhibit, however, the NWP ceremony presented a partisan version of suffrage history—which is to say that it skewed many people’s sense of the history it enshrined. One day after the Portrait Monument was publicly presented, congressional officials transferred it to a storage area underneath the Rotunda, known as the Crypt, where it remained for the next 76 years.


Portrait Monument

The marble statue of three suffragists—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott—by Adelaide Johnson, was kept in the Capitol crypt for 76 years.

—Library of Congress

For the past hundred years, the Smithsonian’s NAWSA exhibit and the Portrait Monument (which was moved back upstairs in 1997 after women’s groups raised the necessary funds) have provided the main national remembrances of the suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony’s image appeared on a three-cent stamp in 1936, a fifty-cent stamp in 1955, and a silver dollar, produced in limited quantities, beginning in 1979. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, opened in 1980 to commemorate the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the memory of which Stanton and Anthony carefully crafted in their multivolume History of Woman Suffrage and elsewhere, as the historian Lisa Tetrault has established. And, in 2016, President Barack Obama declared the Sewall-Belmont House, the long-term headquarters of the NWP, a national monument. But these tributes are a far cry from a complete history of the movement.

For starters, the truncated version of suffrage history centering on Anthony, Stanton, and Paul elides the larger complexities of the long struggle for the vote—which was, fundamentally, a battle for women’s autonomy—and glosses over the fact that the Nineteenth Amendment did not enfranchise all women. Black women in the South, Native American women, and other women of color remained disfranchised for years, if not decades, after 1920. Moreover, singling out only NAWSA and NWP leaders limits the story of suffrage to the efforts of white women, when women of color also made vital contributions to the cause.

Such limited commemorations have also failed to pierce our shared historical narratives, which still focus predominately on Founding Fathers, Civil War battles, and presidents. Following the federal government’s lead, history textbooks continue to give short shrift to suffrage (along with women’s history as a whole), presenting it in sidebars or optional units, as a 2017 report by the National Women’s History Museum documented. Neither the textbook version of suffrage history nor the NAWSA and NWP versions capture the breadth and depth of the movement or its increasingly significant lessons for us today.

Fortunately, as the 2020 suffrage centennial approaches, several national exhibitions have opened—or will soon open—that promise to upend, complicate, and diversify our understanding of the movement’s history.

The National Portrait Gallery’s stunning “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence,” curated by Kate Clarke Lemay, opened on March 29. As the first national centennial exhibit, “Votes for Women” has set the bar high for subsequent commemorations. The exhibit takes as its point of departure the various origins of the movement—including but also displacing the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention—and foregrounds the many strands of activists and activism that led to the eventual ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Significantly, the exhibit presents the amendment not as the terminus of women’s struggle for citizenship rights but as its midpoint. The final room reminds visitors that the Nineteenth Amendment did not become a reality for all women until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and it suggests, via video monitor, various ways in which women’s rights continue to be challenged.

The exhibit also highlights, in rare and beautiful portraits, several African-American women who worked for the vote along with other civil rights, through women’s clubs, church groups, and civic organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women, founded in 1896 and led by Mary Church Terrell.  For those who look carefully, the exhibit advances a thoughtful argument about the challenges of centering those whose portraits, papers, and artifacts do not tend to be preserved in archives or museums.

On May 10, 2019, the National Archives opened “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” which runs through January 2021 and is accompanied by a traveling exhibit entitled “One Half of the People: Advancing Equality for Women.” Curated by Corinne Porter, “Rightfully Hers” features the Archives’ collections of suffrage material—from countless petitions women sent to Congress to state ratification certificates to the Nineteenth Amendment itself. The exhibit tells the complicated story of women’s attempt to secure the vote before and after 1920, including a 1938 pamphlet documenting voting restrictions in the South, a 1946 affidavit from a Navajo Indian woman who was not allowed to register to vote, and the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, which reversed provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  A goal of the exhibit and related programming is to encourage all Americans to be “election ready,” even providing visitors the opportunity to register to vote on site.

To coincide with the one hundredth anniversary of congressional passage, the Library of Congress will open “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote” on June 4. Drawing on the library’s vast manuscripts related to suffrage (many of which have recently been digitized), this exhibit will include a varied assortment of materials, from moving pictures to sheet music to foundational documents such as a rare printed version of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments.

The U.S. Senate Historical Office has organized a series of talks and tours and will soon unveil an online exhibit of primary documents and explanatory essays analyzing the Nineteenth Amendment’s circuitous, 41-year-long path through the Senate. Under the auspices of the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative, several public and private museums, historical sites, and partner groups have created a clearinghouse website, comprehensive calendar, and classroom resources.

Next year, the Smithsonian American History Museum will debut “Creating Icons: How We Remember Women’s Suffrage” on March 6.  The centerpiece of the exhibit, curated by Lisa Kathleen Graddy, will be the Susan B. Anthony portrait acquired from NAWSA in 1919, along with material highlighting the NWP and other organizations. Displays will contrast the “famous” with the “forgotten” to press the question of what we remember and what we forget.

This impressive slate of national commemorations offers a stark contrast to the previous 99 years of relative silence. Each of these exciting projects links the Nineteenth Amendment to the longer, ongoing struggle for voting rights. Another shared goal is the commitment to showcase women beyond the triumvirate of Anthony, Stanton, and Paul. Each museum introduces visitors to fascinating women they may never have heard of before—from Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who declared, in 1866, that it was impossible to separate racial discrimination from sex discrimination because “we are all bound up together,” to Zitkala-Sa, a member of the Sioux Nation, who helped lead the Society of American Indians to advocate for the citizenship rights of Native Americans (granted by Congress in 1924) to the tens of thousands of women whose names appear in the historical record only because they petitioned Congress for the right to vote.

One impetus for the plethora of suffrage centennial exhibits in Washington is the Smithsonian-wide American Women’s History Initiative, “Because of Herstory,” an outgrowth of the 2016 Congressional Commission Report on the American Museum of Women’s History. Another explanation for the newfound interest in women’s history at the national level is that, for the first time, many premier institutions—including the Smithsonian American History Museum, the Library of Congress, and the National Portrait Gallery—are led by women.

Beyond museum leadership, the record number of women in Congress have introduced several measures to commemorate the centennial. In 2017, Congress established the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission to “ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment.” Senators Marsha Blackburn and Kirsten Gillibrand, together with House counterparts Representatives Elise Stefanik and Brenda Lawrence, have even proposed the creation of a suffrage centennial coin.  

But the larger question remains: To what extent will these centennial commemorations inspire a more comprehensive overhaul of our shared historical narratives? Will our textbooks, museums, and monuments soon equally include the experiences and contributions of women—not just Stanton, Anthony, and Paul—and present the history of women as vitally intertwined with the history of America as a whole?

After nearly a hundred years of national amnesia regarding the women’s suffrage movement (despite decades of scholarship by myriad historians), the ongoing and upcoming exhibits in Washington—along with many new books and state and local commemorations—suggest that we are now ready not only to remember women’s suffrage in a nuanced way that foregrounds race but also to fully incorporate women—of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities—into our national narratives and into the centers of political power. Beyond the vote, exhibits, and statues, this is what the suffragists wanted all along.


VIDEO/EXHIBITION: National Archives “Rightfully Hers” Exhibit

The video above explains the National Archives suffrage exhibition, “Rightfully Hers,” which opened May 10, 2019 in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, a collection of photographs and documents from the archives. This also includes a traveling exhibition “One Half the People: Advancing Equality for Women.” There are links to a selection of images from the exhibit on the same page. The National Archive also has put together teaching materials, which you can read about on here (“TeachDoc”) or access directly from the National Archives site here. Look for further information about educational resources available at this National Archive site and the traveling version which will be in the following cities on these dates between 2019 and 2021:

Virtual Archive: Tennessee and Passage of the 19th Amendment

The Tennessee State Library and Archives put together an online archival resource that documents the state’s pivotal role in passing the 19th Amendment, which ended the exclusion of women from using the ballot box.

36 states were needed to ratify that amendment. By the time the suffrage debate reached Tennessee, 35 states had ratified the change. In August 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. The state, and the rest of the United States, will celebrate the centennial of suffrage in 2020.

The state’s archives features documents, photos, cartoons and audio from pro-suffrage and anti-suffrage forces. The website explains:

This initial collection focuses on pro- and anti-suffrage activity in Tennessee in 1920, primarily drawing from the papers of suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, anti-suffragist Josephine A. Pearson, and Governor Albert H. Roberts. In addition to letterstelegramspolitical cartoonsbroadsides, and photographs, it contains three audio clips from an interview conducted in 1983 with Abby Crawford Milton. As the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment approaches, we plan to add to this online collection, expanding the chronological and narrative scope.

 Check out the whole website here.

British National Archives: Documents and Multimedia on Suffrage

To mark the 100th anniversary of British women of property winning the right to vote, and the 90th anniversary of all women getting to vote in Britain, the National Archives created a website filled with primary source documents, videos and teaching resources.

Among the notable aspects of the site is a section detailing how website visitors can comb through government documents on the suffrage movement, including some documents that you can view online. These documents detail “the government’s response to militant activities and civil disobedience such as destruction of property, tax evasion and census boycotts.” There are also links to archival footage of suffrage actions and newspaper reports.

It also includes new films—like the one below created by young people in collaboration with filmmaker Nigel Kellaway—on the British suffrage movement.

Check out the entire website here.

Tennessee Governor’s Proclamation on Suffrage

On August 24, 1920, Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts signed this statement affirming that Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

This proclamation was signed a week after Tennessee became the 36th, and thus decisive, state to vote in favor of ratifying the Constitutional amendment.

For more information on the fight over suffrage in Tennessee, see this film and this book on the topic.

Read the governor’s suffrage proclamation here: