Let me make the songs for the people, Songs for the People. By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
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.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, better-known as SNCC, was a student-led civil rights group active during the 1960s. They are best known for organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters across the South. SNCC focused mainly on direct action, and with help from early mentor Ella Baker, their activist vision prioritized grassroots organizing and equal participation for women.
Registration and mobilization of black voters in the South were two of their biggest projects. In early 1962, the Kennedy Administration created the Voter Education Project (VEP) to fund voter drives in the South. Many members of SNCC believed that obtaining the right to vote was an important step toward political power for black Americans, and were excited by the new opportunities to register voters. Other members saw the VEP as the government’s attempt to co-opt the movement. Nevertheless, SNCC helped register many southern voters, despite facing extreme violence and opposition in doing so.
Frederick Douglass championed many causes surrounding social justice and equality, including the burgeoning women’s rights movement and universal suffrage.
Frederick Douglass was an influential abolitionist, author and social reformer. Douglass was born into slavery circa 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. He escaped to Philadelphia in 1838 with his partner Anna Murray, whom he had met in Baltimore the previous year. They eventually settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, an abolitionist center, and began their family. In New Bedford, Douglass regularly attended anti-slavery meetings and became a preacher. In turn, he developed impressive oratorical skills.
For the rest of his life, Douglass was a champion of equal rights. In addition to his anti-slavery work, he fought for women’s rights and equal rights for Native Americans and Chinese immigrants. In 1848, Douglass attended the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. At Seneca Falls, Douglass spoke in favor of women voting before the suffrage movement had even truly begun. In his speech, he noted that he could not accept suffrage as a black man if women could not vote too.
Margaret Brent was an early advocate for expanding voting rights law, challenging the Maryland General Assembly to grant her voting rights in 1648.
Margaret Brent, born circa 1600 in Gloucestershire, England, was a prominent attorney, “founding mother” of Maryland, and the first female in the colonies to demand the right to vote in court. She first arrived in St. Marys City, Maryland with three of her siblings in 1638. She subsequently became involved in various business ventures and became the first woman landowner in Maryland. She was renowned for her business savvy and knowledge of the law. In 1647, then-Governor of Maryland Leonard Calvert appointed her executor of his estate shortly before he died. As Calvert’s executor, she played an instrumental role in stabilizing Maryland at a time of political crisis for the colony.
In 1648, Brent argued before the provincial assembly for a voice in the council and two votes, one as Lord Baltimore’s representative and one as a landowner in her own right. As an unmarried, property-owning gentlewoman, Brent’s argument was consistent with English law, but she was ultimately denied the vote. After falling out of favor with the Calvert family, Brent moved to Virginia, where she died circa 1671.
You can view the transcript of request for the right to vote to the Maryland General Assembly in 1648 in volume 1 of the Archives of Maryland, on page 215. The volume is available in Special Collections & University Archives and online through the Internet Archive:
At the heart of the Special Collections & University Archives exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America are advocates, like Brent, and grassroots organizations who have fought for expanding the right to vote. Their individual and collective voices have driven major changes to American voting rights, moving the nation closer to the ideal of “one person, one vote.”
Visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America or explore the exhibit online.
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.
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.
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 Women. Vindication 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 Leigh. Aurora 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 big topic of conversation for 2021 has been the For the People Act (HR1). HR1 is an expansive bill, spanning a number of voter issues including registration, early and mail-in voting, voter roll purges, election securing, campaign finance, and outlines conflict of interest and ethics provisions for federal employees. With the bill being hotly debated by Congress, we are reminded of other contentious battles over American voting rights legislation.
For decades, people of color and other marginalized groups were denied the right to vote and met with violence and intimidation when they challenged the status quo. Civil rights organizers worked at various levels to challenge the discriminatory laws and segregationist attitudes prevalent across America. During the height of the Civil Rights movement the increased brutality inspired greater activism, which in turn led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark legislation sought to combat voting laws that discriminated against voters on the basis of race.
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