Women’s Suffrage: Carrie Chapman Catt

“A small group of people determined to oppose legislation, if provided with money, as were the brewers and distillers, may prevent action being taken, even though the masses of the people demand it.”

In a modern political landscape that empowers lobbyists and special interest groups–particularly those with enough money to spare–you wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that these words were spoken in the last few years.  In fact, they were spoken one hundred years ago.

Carrie Chapman Catt, who composed these words, embodied socially progressive ideas in more ways than one.  Born in 1859 in rural Wisconsin, Catt dedicated four decades of her life organizing campaigns and advocating political leaders across the country for the passage of laws to enable women’s suffrage.  During a time when even the more influential women rarely occupied positions of high social and political power, Catt served two terms as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association between 1900 and 1920 and founded the League of Women Voters in 1920.     

Like her close friend and NAWSA presidential predecessor Susan B. Anthony, Catt worked tirelessly for several decades to champion the women’s suffrage movement in the pursuit of a national right to vote.  Between the 1890s and 1910s, Catt helped develop and implement campaigns across the country to pressure state and federal leaders to support suffrage legislation. At the grassroots level, she also helped to mobilize thousands of volunteers and supporters for the NAWSA and made hundreds of speeches to promote her goals and visions.  

After the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 fulfilled the most fundamental goal of the suffrage movement, Catt helped to create the League of Women Voters.  Not fully content with a federal amendment giving women across the country the right to vote, Catt expanded her vision for greater gender equality by encouraging women to become more active political leaders.  In a pamphlet published by the LWV entitled “Whose Government Is This?,” Catt advocated for women to enroll in classes in citizenship and ethics so that they could learn about how their governments work and operate.  In order to attain a greater impact on politics, Catt concluded the pamphlet by writing, “women must be on the inside of parties, and before that can be brought about they must understand better than they do the strength of weakness of each political process.” 

When the League of Women Voters published these words, only one woman had been elected to Congress. By the end of the 1920s, 23 women would hold positions in the federal legislature. This pamphlet not only attests to Catt’s vast contributions to the women’s suffrage movement and its eventual realization in 1920, but also illustrates how the fight for equal rights and representation continued to grow beyond the passage of the 19th amendment.   

**To learn more about women’s suffrage, check out the “Get Out The Vote: Suffrage & Disenfranchisement in America” exhibit from the Special Collections and University Archives.    


David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

Racism as a Political Tool in the Southern Suffrage Movement

In 1870, the 15th Amendment stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment gave many men of color the right to vote, though racist state and local governments almost immediately drafted new laws to disenfranchise them. 

Across the American South, racist politicians scrambled to restrict Black votes and maintain white supremacy. As soon as the federal government stopped enforcing the 15th Amendment after Reconstruction, Southern states successfully disenfranchised most Black men with Jim Crow laws and violent intimidation tactics. 

However, as the women’s suffrage movement regained popularity, Southern politicians feared not only that the proposed Susan B. Anthony Amendment would enfranchise Black women voters, but that it would re-enfranchise Black male voters as well. As Congress debated the Amendment in 1919, South Carolina Senator Ellison “Cotton Ed” Smith argued that “the southern man who votes for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment votes to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment.” 

Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi proposed limiting the franchise to white women, while others argued that the 19th Amendment would be useless because Southern states would inevitably void it, as they had with the 15th Amendment, by mandating poll taxes and literacy tests. Some Southern politicians went as far as calling for the repeal of the 15th Amendment as the women’s suffrage movement grew. 

Thus, white women decided that the only way to get the Susan B. Anthony Amendment through congress would be to focus on white women’s enfranchisement. Suffrage leaders acknowledged that Black women in the South would be disenfranchised by the same means as their husbands. While some accepted this fact as an unfortunate truth, others welcomed it. Carrie Chapman Catt famously noted that “If the South really wants White Supremacy, it will urge the enfranchisement of women.”

While most white women in the South fought for suffrage along the same lines as those in the North– gender equality and progressive reform legislation– one group of Southern suffragists used different methods. The Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC), headed by Kate Gordon of Louisiana, pressured state legislatures to enfranchise white women but rejected the notion of a federal amendment. Its motto was “Make the Southern States White.” SSWSC actively opposed Black enfranchisement and advertised state-level suffrage laws as a way to ensure a majority-white electorate in the South. 

Gordon was one of the most blatantly racist of all the suffrage leaders, evidenced by this claim:

“The question of white supremacy is one that will only be decided by giving the right of the ballot to the educated, intelligent white women of the South. Their vote will eliminate the question of the negro vote in politics, and it will be a glad, free day for the South when the ballot is placed in the hands of its intelligent, cultured, pure and noble womanhood.”

Despite these views, she held high status in NAWSA–the preeminent American suffrage organization– for several years until she dismissed it as a pawn of the Republican Party and created SSWSC. Though a controversial figure even then, Gordon’s influence demonstrates, at best, a tolerance for racism in the suffrage movement; at worst, it demonstrates an endorsement of white supremacy.

The upcoming UMD Libraries’ exhibition Get Out the Vote: Disenfranchisement and Suffrage in America explores the long and turbulent history of voting rights expansion in the United States, featuring items that illustrate the struggles and successes in the battle for equitable and full suffrage over the past 250 years. Learn more by exploring the exhibition


Post by Rigby Philips
 History, specializing in women’s history and the history of sexuality (2021)

Women’s Suffrage: Lucy Stone

On May 1, 1855 in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, Henry Browne Blackwell wed Lucy Stone.  Blackwell and Stone’s marriage defied conventional social norms in several ways. For starters, Stone refused to take her husband’s surname–an almost unheard of break from social conventions of the period.  Blackwell and Stone took on what was perhaps an even more radical measure by formulating and agreeing to a series of protests that actively defied traditional ideas about marriage and gender. Among the stipulations, Blackwell and Stone agreed that they would openly resist any laws that exclusively gave the husband “control and guardianship of their children” and “sole ownership of her personal and use of her real estate.”  Needless to say, Blackwell and Stone’s marriage immediately drew ridicule and confusion across Massachusetts.   

In many ways, Lucy Stone’s defiant and unconventional marriage typified her enormous legacy and many contributions to the women’s rights movements of the 19th century, including the growing fight for suffrage.  Raised in a family of nine children in rural Massachusetts, Stone spent her adolescence and early adult years exposing herself to progressive ideas of gender and race, as well as actively defying social expectations of a woman’s role in society by fighting for greater rights and privileges.  A district teacher at only 16 years old, Stone protested her school’s committee to increase her salary of $1 a day, which was far less than her male counterparts. Stone ultimately enrolled at Oberlin College–the first American college to admit both women and African-Americans–where she continued to protest for equal wages after receiving lower pay as a female instructor.  And while Oberlin was perhaps the most socially progressive higher education institution of its time, Stone was even more forward-thinking. She even refused to accept an invitation to write a commencement speech in 1847 because the college would only allow a man to recite it.

Despite the constant backlash and resistance she faced in even the more open-minded settings, Stone worked tirelessly and courageously throughout the mid-19th century to advocate for the rights of women and African-Americans.  For years, Stone worked with the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society, including writing speeches advocating for the abolishment of slavery and protection of basic rights to African-Americans and women and delivering them to often-combative audiences.

Today, Stone is perhaps best known for organizing the first national Women’s Rights Convention in 1850.  Held in different cities in the following years, the Women’s Rights Convention allowed women across the country to meet and organize campaigns for an array of women’s rights issues and hear from powerful and influential figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  Stone continued to tour the country and advocate for suffrage and other essential rights for women and African-Americans throughout her later life, until she passed away in 1892 at the age of 75.

Stone and Blackwell had one daughter together–Alice–who spent her life preserving and promoting her mother’s work and continuing her legacy to fight for the rights and freedoms of women across the country.       

To learn more about women’s suffrage, check out the “Get Out The Vote: Suffrage & Disenfranchisement in America” exhibition from the Special Collections and University Archives.  


David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

MDHC Reaches Milestone of 100 Transcriptions!

Recently the staff and volunteers in the Maryland and Historical Collections collecting area completed transcribing 100 of its primary source documents in the Maryland Manuscripts collection. This collection of nearly six thousand individually cataloged items bears witness to a wide breadth of Maryland history, primarily from 1750 to 1900. 

This phase of the project focuses on the series “Slavery-related Documents, 1752-1877 and undated.” The documents describe such topics as escape, manumissions, sale, military service, and abolition. Hundreds of these documents are already digitized and available online in our Digital Collections, making transcription the next priority.

While these transcriptions are not yet available online, researchers can reach out to Special Collections and University Archives at AskHornbake@umd.edu for individual access to select transcripts from this series.

Thanks to the small-but-mighty staff, MDHC is fulfilling UMD Libraries’ commitment of increasing access and use to the collections we steward.


Joni Floyd is Curator, (State of) Maryland and Historical Collections in Special Collections and University Archives, UM Libraries.

Why did some women oppose the suffrage movement?

When most Americans consider the history and legacy of the women’s suffrage movement, they think of larger-than-life historical figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells, as well as momentous and impactful events like the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.  In other words, people understand the suffrage movement based on the contributions made by people who actively advocated for the expansion of voting rights to women and who believed that, as equals, women should be able to help shape the institutions and policies that shaped their own lives.

On the other hand, fewer Americans today may know much about the communities of women who did not believe that women should have the right to vote.  Many today may not know that this group even existed in the first place. After all, why would women oppose the expansion of their own basic rights and privileges?

Typically made up of women from more privileged social and economic backgrounds, the communities of women who opposed suffrage were called several different names, including “anti-suffragettes,” “antis” and “remonstrants.”  One of the anti-suffrage groups who helped popularize the term “remonstrant” was the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women.     

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The Trial of Susan B. Anthony, 1873

On November 1, 1872–four days before Ulysses S. Grant was re-elected as President of the United States–Susan B. Anthony and her three sisters walked into a voter registration office in Rochester, New York.  After a local inspector contacted a legal professional and required them to take an oath of registry, all four women obliged and walked out of the office as registered voters. This was a surprising result, to put it lightly, as the state of New York would not allow women to vote for another 45 years, and nationwide suffrage for women would not be legalized for another 48 years.

Susan B. Anthony on the cover of the February 26, 1916 issue of The Suffragist
Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage newsletter collection

While this event was not the first time women attempted to cast ballots without the legal right, the developments that occurred afterwards generated unprecedented national attention and helped generate new interest in the growing women’s suffrage movement.  After Anthony, her three sisters and about a dozen other women successfully voted after completing the standard oath of registry, they were all arrested less than two weeks later on charges of illegal voting. The arrests were an unexpected and dispiriting turn of events, but Anthony–always a gifted publicist as well as a strong leader–managed to use the upcoming trial as an opportunity to expose the injustices of the current voting regulations and cultivate further support for her movement.

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How to Search for Black History Month in Chronicling America

Happy Black History Month!

In honor of this special month, let’s find out how to search for Black History in our Maryland newspapers in Chronicling America!

The voice of labor. (Cumberland, Md.), 16 Jan. 1941. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060375/1941-01-16/ed-1/seq-3/>
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William Still and The Underground Railroad

In 1872 William Still published The Underground Railroad, a book describing the accounts of African Americans who had escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad.  Still, an influential leader in the abolitionist movement, provided first hand assistance to hundreds of people escaping slavery.  The Underground Railroad is notable because it is the only first person history of the Underground Railroad written and published by an African American.

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Frederick Douglass, The 15th Amendment, and White Women’s Racism in the Suffrage Movement

Abolitionists and suffragists shared activist spaces as early as the mid-19th century. However, though members often overlapped, shared goals and spoke to the same crowds, talks of the 15th Amendment caused rifts in each movement after the Civil War. 

Women’s rights activists like Angelina and Sarah Grimke, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton got their start in abolition. Mott helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society, of which women made up a significant percentage. They formed local women-only branches including the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, notable for its promotion of racial and gender equality and inclusion of Black women as leaders and members. 

Additionally, some well-known abolitionists like Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass voiced support for the women’s rights movement. Douglass spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and was one of 32 men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments there. In 1866 he co-founded the American Equal Rights Association alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The organization demanded universal suffrage in the United States. 

However, supporting universal suffrage eventually proved a daunting and dangerous task for Black men, whom Douglass argued faced prejudice and violence that made their need for the vote more urgent. Though he never abandoned support for women’s suffrage, Douglass began to fight for the passage of the 15th Amendment, which aimed to enfranchise men of all races, but not women. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, Douglass wholeheartedly supported a new amendment meant to enfranchise women and thanked women’s rights activists for their support of Black liberation. In 1888, he spoke before the International Council of Women, in Washington, D.C.: 

“All good causes are mutually helpful. The benefits accruing from this movement for the equal rights of woman are not confined or limited to woman only. They will be shared by every effort to promote the progress and welfare of mankind everywhere and in all ages. It was an example and a prophecy of what can be accomplished against strongly opposing forces, against time-hallowed abuses, against deeply entrenched error, against worldwide usage, and against the settled judgment of mankind, by a few earnest women, clad only in the panoply of truth, and determined to live and die in what they considered a righteous cause.”

Despite Douglass’s steadfast support of women’s enfranchisement, his support for the 15th Amendment felt like a betrayal to white suffragists. Established alliances between abolitionists and suffragists fell to pieces, and many white women who got their start in abolition voiced disdain for the nation’s prioritization of Black enfranchisement. 

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Spiro T. Agnew Papers Utilized for Research in Bag Man

UMD Libraries played a pivotal role  in the creation of Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz’s new book Bag Man, based on Maddow’s Peabody-nominated podcast of the same name. Both the book and podcast explore the surprisingly lesser-known stories of former vice president Spiro T. Agnew’s various crimes, briberies, and cover-ups. These accounts of Agnew’s vice presidency have  been described as “one of the most brazen political bribery scandals in American history” and “the other scandal that rocked Nixon’s White House.”

Maddow turned to several archival institutions for her research on the project, including UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives and Frostburg State’s Ort Library. When her Peabody nomination was announced, she credited libraries and archives  with making this extensive research possible and helping tell Agnew’s story, tweeting, “God bless you and keep you, Maryland college and university libraries!”

The Spiro T. Agnew papers at Hornbake Library’s Special Collections and University Archives contain roughly 750 linear feet of materials. This collection covers wide swaths of his career, including files from his time as Maryland’s Governor, audio of speeches he gave  as vice president, and additional materials from after his resignation.

Luckily, the bulk of the audio recordings utilized by Maddow had recently been made accessible for patrons to use by the time of her research. Special Collections and University Archives undertook a massive twelve-month digitization project in October 2018 to digitize much of the audio materials in the collection, which number over one thousand items and include both open reel tapes and cassette tapes. They are now accessible online through UMD Libraries Digital Collections

This project involved sending out the tapes for digital processing by an outside vendor, and then painstakingly listening to and taking notes for each tape, some of which are nearly 90 minutes long. With these notes, SCUA employees were then able to upload the recordings and create unique titles and descriptions for each one, cataloging them and making them searchable. 

Large projects like these not only promote accessibility and preservation, they allow new stories and perspectives to emerge from old materials. Without the work of librarians and archivists, deep retrospectives like Maddow’s podcast and book wouldn’t be possible.


Gabrielle Puglisi is a second year MLIS graduate student with a specialization in Archives and Digital Curation. She is a student assistant working in the Maryland Collections at the University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives.