Featured Collection: Frontlash records

Frontlash was an activist group, led by young adults, instrumental in increasing voting and political engagement among American youth and minorities. Frontlash also served as a training ground for future personnel in the labor movement. It was created as a nonpartisan organization to challenge political and electoral apathy among youth in the 1960s.

Frontlash staffer handing out registration material

Frontlash stepped up their voter education efforts for young people when the 26th Amendment was passed in 1971. The organization sent members door-to-door, created poster displays, and set up public stands on sidewalks and college campuses to encourage wider political education and to register young voters. Later, they expanded their activities beyond voting rights to include international democracy and fair labor practices, such as child labor, apartheid, minimum wage, and workers rights.

This collection has extensive material related to instruction in labor organizing and union support, as well as significant material relating to Frontlash’s political activity. Types of records include organizational records, financial records, minutes, mission statements, reports, and photographs.

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Exhibition Extended: Get Out the Vote

We are excited to announce the extension of our gallery exhibition Get Out The Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America through August 2023. Get Out The Vote highlights the history of suffrage in America and specifically the fight for the right to vote for women and African Americans. 

With the upcoming midterm elections, we hope that Get Out The Vote will inspire visitors to exercise their right to vote as well as illustrate the history of the expansion and contraction of voting rights. Get a sneak peek by visiting the online exhibition.

To learn about voting in early Maryland, the work of grassroots organizations, the unsteady progress toward greater enfranchisement, and more, visit us Monday – Friday, 10am – 4pm in the Hornbake Library gallery. To visit outside these hours or inquire about a personalized tour, contact us!


Post by Clio Reid, volunteer
McGill University, 2023

Featured Collections: League of Women Voters

The League of Women Voters is a national, non-partisan and grassroots organization striving to expand voting rights and get all people mobilized to vote. The League was founded shortly after the passage of the nineteenth amendment granting women the vote.

Article about the League of Women Voters

In 1921, the Women’s Suffrage League of Maryland affiliated with the recently formed League of Women Voters of the United States. The non-partisan organization has, throughout its history, focused on a number of causes helping to shape American history. In particular, the League has been interested in elections and voting, women’s rights, education, child labor, collective bargaining, food and drug legislation, housing, the Poll Tax, civil rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition to these concerns, the local Leagues have been interested in local issues, including redistricting and reapportionment, state taxes and expenditures, the Maryland constitution, and state and local election laws, balanced local development, improvement of health services, and the establishment of juvenile correctional facilities, busing, urban planning and zoning, transportation, housing, public health, public safety, voter services, and environmental quality.

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Featured Collection: The Committee on Political Education

The AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) was founded in 1955 to encourage workers to participate in political life. COPE conducted research into legislative issues and politicians, organized grass-roots mobilization efforts to track the voting records of state and local legislators, interviewed and screened candidates running for office, and made endorsement recommendations to the AFL-CIO. COPE also worked directly with candidates for political office by providing financial contributions to those supportive of worker’s rights.

COPE representative talking to two people in front of a COPE poster that says "Give a buck to COPE"

Focusing on union members and their families, COPE led registration drives, prepared public relations and education campaigns, and created and distributed publications about candidates and their positions on the issues affecting workers’ lives, such as health care, pension benefits, and safe working conditions.

The materials consists of correspondence, voting statistics, printed materials, and clippings pertaining to election campaigns, politicians, and political issues. While COPE may have compiled voting statistics and published some of the printed material, this collection contains mostly secondary material issued by others and collected by office staff.

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“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – National Organization for Women

The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.

The National Organization for Women’s 1966 Statement of Purpose

National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed in 1966 as an organization focused directly on advancing women’s rights. It was and remains the most visible second-wave feminist organization, and it represents the first independent American women’s movement since the women’s suffrage movement at the beginning of the 20th century.
 
Twenty-eight women co-founded NOW, including well-known feminists like Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Pauli Murray. Their original statement of purpose, written by Friedan and Murray, declared that “the time has come to confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right, as individual Americans, and as human beings.” Today, their platform also addresses  voting rights. They argue that women are disproportionately affected by voter suppression and work to get feminist candidates elected to office.

Explore the records of the National Organization for Women, Maryland Chapter in Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library.

At the heart of the Special Collections & University Archives exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America are advocates 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.

“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Pauli Murray

Now you are strong
And we are but grapes aching with ripeness.
Crush us!
Squeeze from us all the brave life Contained in these full skins.
But ours is a subtle strength
Potent with centuries of yearning,
Of being kegged and shut away In dark forgotten places.

We shall endure
To steal your senses In that lonely twilight
Of your winter’s grief.

To the Oppressors. Pauli Murray.

Pauli Murray was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), as well as a poet, author, lawyer, and civil rights activist. Murray is well known for highlighting the experiences of African-American women in particular. Her work sheds light on “Jane Crow,” a term she coined to illustrate that southern Jim Crow laws impacted women, too. 

Some Jim Crow laws made voter registration and electoral processes more restrictive, so political participation among many southern black voters was suppressed. Such laws included poll taxes, literacy tests, and residency requirements. Voter turnout dropped drastically in the South as a result. 

Murray’s book States’ Law on Race and Color examined and critiqued Jim Crow and similar laws throughout the U.S. It drew on social and psychological theory as well as legal theory, which drew some criticism within the legal profession. However, States’ Laws on Race and Color was hugely influential to the Civil Rights movement. Thurgood Marshall, who was then the NAACP chief counsel and would eventually become a Supreme Court justice, called it the “bible” of the civil rights movement, and the NAACP mirrored Murray’s social-scientific approach in their arguments in Brown v. Board of Education

 

On display in the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America is Dark Testament and Other Poems. By Pauli Murray. Norwalk, Conn., Silvermine, 1970.

At the heart of the Special Collections & University Archives exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America are advocates 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.

“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Let me make the songs for the people, 
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.

Songs for the People. By 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.

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“Get out the Vote” Spotlight – Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

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.

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“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Frederick Douglass

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. 

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“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Margaret Brent

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.