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.

Spotlight on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and acclaimed poet born in Baltimore in 1825. Born to free parents and orphaned at three, Watkins was raised by her maternal uncle Rev. William Watkins, an abolitionist and civil rights activist, and his wife Henrietta. She was educated at her uncle’s school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth. While she was still very young, Harper worked as a nursemaid and seamstress for a white family that owned a bookshop. There, she discovered her love for books and filled her free time with reading. 

From there, Watkins grew up to become the first African American woman to publish a short story, and she published her first book of poetry, Forest Leaves, at age 20. Harper went on to publish another book of poetry, many short stories, and several novels, including her most popular work Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted. Watkins’ writing often addressed issues of race, gender, and their intersections. 

The poem below, “Slave Mother,” highlights the painful relationship between motherhood and Blackness that Harper observed during her lifetime. 

Heard you that shriek? It rose

   So wildly on the air,

It seem’d as if a burden’d heart

   Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—

   The bowed and feeble head—

The shuddering of that fragile form—

   That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?

   Its every glance was pain,

As if a storm of agony

   Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,

   Her boy clings to her side,

And in her kyrtle vainly tries

   His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore

   For him a mother’s pains;

He is not hers, although her blood

   Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands

   May rudely tear apart

The only wreath of household love

   That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light

   That o’er her pathway smiled,

A fountain gushing ever new,

   Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone

   Of music round her heart,

Their lives a streamlet blent in one—

   Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,

   Her last and fond embrace.

Oh! never more may her sad eyes

   Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks

   Disturb the listening air:

She is a mother, and her heart

   Is breaking in despair.

In her discussions of intersectionality, Watkins alienated many white suffragists. She criticized the racism and selfishness of their refusal to support the 15th Amendment. In response, she helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association, which actively supported the 15th Amendment. She was also active in the “Colored Section” of Philadelphia’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. 

Later, Watkins helped organize the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). The NACW focused on both black and women’s issues such as women’s suffrage, lynching, and Jim Crow laws, and became the most prominent organization of the African American Women’s Suffrage Movement. 


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

New Exhibition Online: Get Out the Vote

We are thrilled to announce the launch of a new virtual exhibition, Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America.

Inspired by our collections of grassroots organizations, we used material from our collection to tell the story of voting rights in America, from the founding of this nation to our current electoral climate.

The ideal of universal suffrage, or “one person, one vote,” has compelled many to advocate for greater equity and inclusion in the electoral process. Over the years, voting rights have expanded and contracted for many marginalized communities. Election laws continue to evolve in America as citizens demand equitable representation in government and access to the ballot.

Despite the importance of suffrage in America, voting rights have not always been ensured for everyone. Barriers to voting have led many to advocate for a more representative electorate and to encourage greater participation in local, state, and national elections. Their efforts are crucial to ensure all ALL citizens have the opportunity to cast their ballot.

Visit the online exhibition, explore our collections, and contact us to learn more.

Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment

“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.”

U.S. Constitution. Amendment XV, Section 1. 1870

Last year marked the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment. As one of the last amendments passed during the Reconstruction Era, some lawmakers intended for the 15th Amendment to guarantee voting rights for U.S. citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic identity or a “previous condition of servitude.” In the years immediately following the ratification of the 15th amendment, voter registration and political participation among black men increased dramatically. This trend lasted only a few years before politicians were able to enact laws that “legally” disenfranchised black men. Poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses limited the ability of many black men and poor people to continue to participate in elections. 

The artifacts gathered here reflect sentiments about the 15th Amendment throughout time.

Annual Report of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (1870) 

In this final annual report, members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society reflect on the organization’s 36 years of work towards ending the system of slavery. In their report, they declare their success in their mission, discuss the decision to disband and acknowledge that the fight for sustained equal rights under the law was not over. On voting, they observed:

“Bravely, in the face of imminent peril have they addressed themselves to the performance of their duties. The record of the first election in Virginia where colored men used the ballot, tells the story of many such elections throughout the South. One who witnessed it, reports that on the evening previous to the election, “these loyal-hearted new citizens, devoted themselves in their place of worship, to the high duty before them, with prayer, and the grand old psalm, ‘Before Jehovah’s awful throne;’ then separated to meet at sunrise, and appear in body at the polls.” One hundred men, without a foot of land of their own, and with notices in their pockets, by the old slave-masters, threatening to turn them shelterless from the soils ; there they stook, in the face of the oppressor, and voted for Free Schools, Free Speech and Equal Taxation.” (6)

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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s Radical Activism

In April of 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged as an organization for young Black activists, particularly those who were participating in student-led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters across the Southeast. 

Its founder Ella Baker, formerly employed with the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), believed that SCLC did not allow enough space for Black women and was out of touch with younger, more radical Black activists. Baker intended the Committee as a way to implement direct-action challenges to segregation and voter suppression in the U.S., and it eventually grew to be one of the most radical branches of the civil rights movement (its members were known within the civil rights movement as the “shock troops of the revolution”). Her work for the NAACP in the 1940s provided SNCC with a network of activists, including Bob Moses and Amzie Moore. With help from Moses and Moore, SNCC organized its first Voter Registration Project in the summer of 1960. 

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Searching Digitized Newspapers in Chronicling America

Welcome to Chronicling America

A collaboration between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress, the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) awards organizations grants to create state partnerships for newspaper digitization. As a result, state partners contribute digitized newspapers to Chronicling America. As of January 2021, Chronicling America contains over 17 million pages of digitized newspapers that are freely accessible to the public. Newspapers from 48 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico are included in this remarkable collection (check out this map for a visual!). Newspapers in Chronicling America go as far back as 1777, but as seen in this data visualization, most of the digitized newspaper titles were published between 1850 and 1922. For the state of Maryland, the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project at the University of Maryland Libraries partners with other archives, libraries, and historical societies throughout the state to digitize newspapers published in Maryland for Chronicling America.

The citizen. (Frederick City, Md.), 01 March 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060092/1895-03-01/ed-1/seq-1/>

For the Maryland collection, Chronicling America contains issues from 50 newspaper titles from across the state published between 1840 and 1951. Some highlights from the collection include:

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