Djuna Barnes and the Women’s Suffrage Movement

While Djuna Barnes is most known for her fiction writing, she also had significant ties to the women’s suffrage movement.  Djuna’s connection to the women’s suffrage movement started at a young age.  Djuna’s grandmother, Zadel Gustafson Barnes, was a writer, journalist, and poet. Zadel wrote profiles of well-known suffragists such as Frances E. Willard and participated in the National Woman Suffrage Association’s International Council of Women. Zadel was also active in the temperance movement, which was closely tied to the women’s suffrage movement.

Despite Djuna’s familial connection to the women’s suffrage movement, she had no qualms about occasionally mocking it.  In an August 1913 article Djuna portrays the suffragists as making ridiculous statements such as “cleanliness is next to women suffrage.”  These depictions portray suffragists as foolish caricatures.  Djuna continues this approach in her 1913 article, “70 Suffragists Turned Loose.”  Djuna engages with negative stereotypes of suffragists, such as portraying them as figures who emasculate and intimidate men.  However, some of Djuna’s criticism is about the perceived conservatism of some suffrage leaders such as Carrie Chapman Catt.  Djuna portrays Chapman Catt as admonishing aspiring suffragists for the length of their dresses and preparing them for speeches in front of audiences from “the factory world.”  Djuna criticizes Chapman Catt’s focus on respectability politics and her classism, showing a willingness to engage in more nuanced critiques of the suffrage movement.  

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Rebecca Hourwhich Reyher and Women’s Suffrage

The suffrage movement had many national leaders, but it could not have functioned without local figures such as Rebecca Hourwhich Reyher.  Hourwhich Reyher was the head of the National Women’s Party’s Boston and New York offices.  

To learn more about Rebecca Hourwhich Reyher, take a look at the Ferdinand Reyher papers and the Faith Reyher Jackson papers.  Ferdinand Reyher, Hourwhich Reyher’s ex-husband, was an author and journalist.  Faith Reyher Jackson, Reyher and Hourwhich Reyher’s daughter, was a dancer, author, and master gardener.  Both collections contain materials related to Hourwhich Reyher.  For example, the Ferdinand Reyher papers contain a letter from the famous suffragist Alice Paul.  

To learn more about Rebecca Hourwhich and other items in Literature and Rare Books related to suffrage contact us!


Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

Favorite Books in Literature and Rare Books

Now that summer break has arrived, many of us are looking for book recommendations.  If you’re stumped, check out some of the favorite books of famous women that you can find in Literature and Rare Books.  

Amongst the most influential books in Literature and Rare Books’ collections is Mary Wollstonecrafts’ Vindication of the Rights of WomenVindication of the Rights of Women was an essential work for many suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Millicent Garrett Fawcett.  Garret Fawcett even wrote the foreword to the centenary edition of Vindication of the Rights of Women.  Other writers such as George Eliot and Virginia Woolf have praised Wollstonecraft and her work. 

Another work that influenced Susan B. Anthony was Elizabeth Barret Browning’s epic poem Aurora LeighAurora Leigh describes a woman writer and her attempts to find love and fulfillment in her work.  Reading Aurora Leigh inspired some of Anthony’s thinking regarding how women balance marriage and independence.

If you’re looking for a whole series of books to read you can browse The Rose and Joseph Pagnani Collection of Girls’ Series Books’ collection of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories books.  You can also check out our online exhibit on Nancy Drew and other Girls’ Series Books.  The Nancy Drew series was a childhood favorite of several notable women such as Gayle King, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Sonia Sotomayor, who loved reading books where a smart young heroine was at the center of the adventures.

Contact us to learn more about these works or other items in Literature and Rare Books!


Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

A “Complex and Multi-Talented Man”: Exploring the Fascinating and Complicated Legacy of Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin speaking at Solidarity Day, September 19, 1981, https://digital.lib.umd.edu/resultsnew/id/umd:687295

As Pride month comes to a close, the Meany Labor Archive wanted to highlight the life and legacy of one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s close advisors and mentors, gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. In one of our last blog posts, co-written with University Archives, we explored the radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, specifically his ties to the labor movement. A key figure in the Civil Rights movement, Rustin advised Martin Luther King, Jr on nonviolent protesting, and was a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. And while the March on Washington is commonly considered one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in United States history, the largest demonstration was actually a system-wide school boycott in New York City, beginning on February 3, 1964. Over 360,000 elementary and secondary students went on strike, with many of them attending “freedom schools” that opened up around the city. And who did local leaders recruit to guide the protests? None other than Bayard Rustin. As the lead organizer for the strike, Rustin immediately solicited volunteers and met with church and community leaders to obtain their commitment to organize their membership for the strike. On February 3rd, 464,361 students did not show up for school. In freezing temperatures, picket lines formed outside 300 school buildings, and over 3,000 students marched with signs reading “Jim Crow Must Go!,” “We Demand Quality Education!,” and “We Shall Overcome!” And although the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) never publicly endorsed the strike, nearly 10% of teachers were absent, and the union supported teachers who refused to cross the picket line. The day after the strike, Rustin declared that it was the “largest civil rights protest in the nation’s history.” Prior to organizing two of the largest civil rights demonstrations in United States history, Rustin also played an important role in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which challenged racial injustice through the usage of “Gandhian nonviolence.” As a member of CORE, Rustin trained and led groups in actions against segregation throughout the 1940s. 

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Voter Suppression: Then and Now

Following the 2020 presidential election, the ensuing debates over the integrity of the election and the violence of early 2021, voting rights and efforts to ensure fair and safe elections seem as important as ever.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s State Voting Bill Tracker 2021 reports that in just over one month, hundreds of restrictive bills were introduced across the country, some of which have already passed and been signed into law. Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Michigan’s legislative battles have dominated headlines for many weeks.

As debates rage, many have invoked terminology we thought a distant part of our nation’s troubled history, calling these newly introduced voting bills Jim Crow laws. Looking into our past using resources in our collections can help us better understand the ways laws meant to protect marginalized citizens failed. Politicians cloaked systemic bias into law by utilizing coded language and proxies for race to deny people of color access to the ballot.

Literacy Tests and Poll Taxes

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Updated Resource: Djuna Barnes Papers Finding Aid

The Djuna Barnes papers finding aid has recently been updated with an inventory of the extensive Barnes Library, which is comprised of over 1000 titles owned by author/artist Djuna Barnes.  The library’s highlights include first editions of Barnes’ works like Ryder, Ladies Almanack, Nightwood, and The Antiphon.  The Barnes Library also includes unique items such as books from the 18th century, books with annotations by Barnes, a copy of Shakespeare’s works that Barens was given for her 16th birthday, and presentation copies of works from other notable authors such as Charles Reznikoff .  These items and more, can be found under the Inventories/Additional Information heading in the finding aid or by searching the online catalog!

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Updated Resource: Katherine Anne Porter Papers Finding Aid

The Katherine Anne Porter papers finding aid has recently been updated with an additional series on the Katherine Anne Porter Library, which is comprised of over 3800 titles owned by author Katherine Anne Porter.  The Katherine Anne Porter Library includes presentation copies of works from authors such as Glenway Wescott and books inscribed to Katherine Anne Porter from writers like Marianne Moore.  The collection also includes unique copies of Porter’s works such as a copy of L’Arbre de Judée on vellum or a copy of Ship of Fools with Porter’s handwritten revisions.  These items, and more, can be found under the Inventories/Additional Information heading in the finding aid or by searching the catalog!

If you have any questions about the Katherine Anne Porter papers or our other Literature and Rare Books collections please contact us!


Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

New Virtual Exhibition: Weapons of Math Destruction in the Archives

A new virtual exhibition of items from University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives related to Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction is now available. In her book, O’Neil presents arguments for how algorithms increasingly control critical functions in our lives and the danger of increasing our dependence on these flawed algorithms. While much of the material in Special Collections and University Archives cannot speak to the issues with present day algorithms, what these collections can help us understand are the “historical data sets” that drive our cultural implicit biases and shape the algorithms we encounter everyday. These items allow us to explore the ways that bias has historically played a role in upholding inequitable systems. Explore material from our collection related to higher education, hiring and employment, credit, insurance, and advertising by visiting the new virtual exhibition Weapons of Math Destruction in the Archives.

Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction was selected as the 2020-2021 First Year Book.

Gerrymandering & the Attempted Elimination of Macon County, Alabama, 1957

Despite its fundamental political motive–to reshape voting districts in order to benefit the electoral chances of one political party–gerrymandering may be one of the few practices that Republicans and Democrats have in common these days.  Although the effects of Republican-led gerrymandering has arguably received more national attention during recent years, both parties have used this practice to gain political advantages. Districts across Maryland, for example, have been redrawn by both major parties during the last several decades.  Take Baltimore–a longtime resident in southern Baltimore may have lived in as many as three different electoral districts during the last 20 years.

While gerrymandering has been utilized to both maximize and minimize the electoral impact of different groups of voters, its geographic effect typically follows a certain pattern.  The shapes of different districts change every few years as a result of gerrymandering. However, in 1957 in southeast Alabama, the practice of gerrymandering almost led to the complete elimination of one county entirely.  The reason? To severely curtail the voting power of African-American residents.

Despite ever-present resistance from white, pro-segregation factions, including violent intimidation tactics used by white nationalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, black voter registration in the South rose steadily during the 1950s.  A corresponding trend was also occurring in Macon County, Alabama–located about 40 miles east of Montgomery and home to the historically-black Tuskegee University. Whereas only 30 African-American residents were registered to vote in 1930, over 1,000–or roughly three percent of the total county population–were registered by 1957.  

Of course, this trend also created heightened concern among white southerners who feared that black voters would be able to curtail long-standing segregation laws across the region.  In turn, they worked with state legislators like Alabama senator Sam Engelherdt to develop and implement strategies to stop the growth of black voters.

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Disenfranchisement in Mississippi, 1954

On February 3, 1870, the United States ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  The third and final amendment of the Reconstruction Amendments–enacted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War to help rebuild the Union and establish a freer society unbound from slavery–prohibits states and the federal government from withholding a citizen’s right to vote based on that person’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  After Iowa ratified the amendment on February 3–becoming the 28th state to do so and fulfilling the three-fourths threshold for amendment ratification–celebrations sprung out across the country.  

At the time, President Ulysses S. Grant claimed that the passage of the Fifthteenth Amendment “completes the greatest civil change and constitutes the most important event” in the nation’s history.  Many other Republicans believed that the amendment would finally guarantee black Americans equal rights under the law. Future president James A. Garfield even declared that the amendment would ensure black Americans control over their collective well-being.  Garfield proclaimed, “It places their fortunes in their own hands.”

Nevertheless, because the federal government failed to strongly enforce the Fifteenth Amendment at the state level after the Reconstruction Era, southern states used alternative methods to restrict the right to vote for black Americans.  For many decades after the ratification of the amendment, the state of Mississippi became one of the more deliberate enablers of disenfranchisement methods. By 1875, only five years after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, members of the Democratic Party in the state developed what came to be known as the Mississippi Plan–a series of measures used to suppress the black vote and keep their party in power.  Eventually, these measures culminated in the passage of a new state constitution in 1890, which explicitly disenfranchised black voters through the implementation of poll taxes and literacy tests.

Disenfranchisement in Mississippi and other Southern states–enforced using voter registration measures like poll taxes as well as violent intimidation tactics organized by racist vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan–persisted throughout the late 1800s and well into the 20th century.  However, by the mid-1950s, events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emergence of grassroot civil rights groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference helped spur rejuvenated calls for actions to protect the rights and well-being of African-Americans across the country.     

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