Temperance as a Tool for Suffrage

Before women’s rights activists campaigned for suffrage, they called for prohibition. In 1852, four years after the Seneca Falls Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the New York State Women’s Temperance Society. They would not found the American Equal Rights Association until 1866. 

Stanton and Anthony fought for statewide prohibition in New York alongside divorce and other Civil Reforms– like the amendment of the Married Woman’s Property Law, which allowed for property ownership, suits in court, shared child custody, and the rights to earnings and inheritance– before they ever explicitly fought for voting rights. 

Beginning in 1866, they fought for Universal Suffrage with the American Equal Rights Association, but split from the organization in 1869 over its prioritization of suffrage for black men over women. From there, they founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. That same year, the National Prohibition Party was organized. 

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) formed five years later in Cleveland. Its platform encouraged the prohibition of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs in the U.S., driven partially by a desire to protect wives and children from the physical, emotional, and economic consequences of living with men who were dependent on alcohol. Under the leadership of Frances Willard in 1879, the WCTU became one of the most influential women’s organizations in the country. 

At the turn of the century, assumptions about women’s moral superiority increased society’s comfort with their presence in the public sphere. Accordingly, the WCTU  expanded its platform to include progressive reforms such as labor legislation, prison reform, and public health. By 1890, the WCTU sponsored more than thirty-five areas of activity, most of which had little or nothing to do with temperance. It was especially effective because of its decentralized structure; local chapters had a great deal of flexibility to choose which issues their members would pursue. 

Beginning in 1881, WCTU members argued that women’s suffrage, also known as the “Home Protection Vote,” would cure America’s moral ills. A decade later in 1891, Frances Willard argued that “an organized movement of women will best conserve the highest good of the family and the State.” 

A National Prohibition Party postcard that exemplifies the temperance movement’s emphasis on domestic values and morality.

Beginning around the 1880s, Black women became active in the WCTU’s “Department for Work among Negros.” Most local branches were segregated, especially in the South. In 1883, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a Black poet and activist, became head of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia WCTU. Harper often worked closely with the National WCTU, because she saw the organization as the most effective way to expand women’s federal power and earn the vote. However, she also believed that Black reformers should be able to set their own priorities and implemented programs across the country meant to specifically benefit Black communities. Harper split with Frances Willard over issues like federal support for an anti-lynching law and the abolition of the convict lease system. The National Association of Colored Women (founded in 1896) grew out of this split. 

Though controversial, the WCTU’s efforts were crucial to the passage of the 19th amendment. Membership decreased sharply following Prohibition, but the WCTU remains active today as the oldest continuous women’s organization in the world. 

SCUA holds the Maryland Temperance Collection, which contains several WCTU materials. View the 1889 Annual Report from Union Bridge, Maryland, below.


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

Telling the Stories of Women in Broadcasting

One of the intriguing aspects of working with the Library of American Broadcasting (LAB) collections is discovering, through routine processing, people who developed interesting careers in early network radio and television but are not well-known among broadcast historians. In particular, information on women in broadcasting can be especially scarce, making it challenging to discover the full scope of their contributions to the industry. The relative lack of archival documentation compared to their male counterparts certainly reflects their historic marginalization in the industry.

Sometimes, we have only a few items from which to assemble personal histories, such as those I find while working with our photo archive. Take, for example, this press photo of a woman seated in front of an early NBC “box camera” microphone. An included caption describes her: “Continually on the trail of celebrities to present on the National Farm and Home Hour, Helen Stevens Fisher generally succeeds in presenting at least one nationally famous personality each week. Her early experience as a newspaper reporter serves her in good stead when it comes to getting her guests to tell some of their most interesting experiences.”

A Google search turns up a little more information, such as mentioning her previous experience as a newspaper reporter. But nothing tells me if she was content to be the “The Little Lady of the House,” as the network called her, or if she was ambitious to expand her role on the program. Digital newspaper archives reveal that Fisher joined the Illinois Woman’s Press Association in 1927, later serving as president from 1945-1949 and that she was the author of five books on home entertainment. (She had the dubious honor of having one of her books unfavorably reviewed in the New York Times by famous radio curmudgeon Fred Allen.) That’s all I could find online in a brief search; perhaps an oral history with Fisher waits to be discovered in a different archive.

Another photo with little more than a cryptic caption describes one Claudine Macdonald, “charming mistress of ceremonies on NBC’s Woman’s Radio Review, [who] presides, via microphone, over hundreds of club meetings throughout the country. Her broadcasts… bring to America’s remotest hamlets distinguished speakers – both men and women – who would otherwise be available to only the largest and most wealthy organizations.”

I was able to find more information about Macdonald in Donna L. Halpern’s Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting (2014): “The Women’s Radio Review was almost like a magazine, featuring segments on music (sometimes written or performed by women artists), literature, art, travel, news… and no recipes. Macdonald was… opposed to the type of women’s show that talked to women as if they were stupid.” Newspaper archives turned up several articles, including a widely syndicated full-page biography. One of them offered details of her childhood, education, previous work experience, and how she came to create, direct, and host an afternoon “woman’s program” on NBC. However, as with Helen Stevens Fisher, I could find no information about when and under what circumstances she left broadcasting.

Fortunately, the LAB also contains more robust collections of women in broadcasting, providing much more complete pictures of their careers. For example, the Edythe Meserand (pictured below) papers include correspondence, clippings, memos, notes, and scripts. These tell us that she began her career in 1926, joining the Press Department of the recently formed NBC network in New York. Meserand was also a charter member and first national president of the American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT), the organizational records of which comprise one of our most popular collections. This article offers a more detailed description that Meserand and other early female figures in American broadcasting history, such as Inga Rundvold, Julie Stevens and Mona Kent, all of whom are well-represented in our archival collections.

Whether they’re comprised of a single photo or dozens of linear feet, materials that document women’s roles in all aspects of broadcasting are especially vital in not only preserving their legacies, but providing detailed accounts of how they navigated the challenges before them. 

Founding officers of the American Women in Radio and Television

Post by Jim Baxter
Processing, Reference and Outreach Assistant with Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture 

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)

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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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)

Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project: An Introduction

“She always kept things secret in such a public way.”

Katherine Anne Porter, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” (1930)

        Katherine Anne Porter’s description of Cornelia, daughter of the titular Granny Weatherall, is apt considering the tensions between Porter’s own private and public personas. Porter, too, was a secretly-public person – she was forthcoming with information about her life and experience, though she sometimes elaborated on the facts, exaggerating details or creating new information.  The reality of her life became mysterious, as Callie Russell Porter became the Katherine Anne Porter who captivated the literary communities of which she was a part. In the margins of Katherine Anne’s books in Hornbake Library’s Porter Room, there are even notes from Katherine Anne’s sister, Gay, that call attention to the points at which Katherine Anne’s stories depart from or obscure the source material of her own life.


Katherine Anne Porter with hair down in garden, Mixcoac, Mexico. Back inscription: “Ophelia in Mixcoac, March 1931.”
Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries
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An Unknown Pioneer Takes Her Place in the Broadcast Archives

Mary Kelly, Today Show 1952Mary Ellen Agnes Kelly (1926-2005?) was an American television researcher, talent coordinator, and associate producer with the pioneering early morning television program Today on NBC. She was also a special assignments reporter, traveling far and wide to film feature segments. Kelly crisscrossed the United States many times and covered stories from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Newspaper articles from the period compared her to Nellie Bly, the intrepid 19th-century reporter known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days. Kelly traveled around the world – on the first commercial flight over the North Pole in 1957 – in 71 hours and six minutes. Unfortunately, her remarkable career is little known today.

A remarkable collection of photographs and clippings from her career are now part of Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture. The journey of these materials to our collections is typical in how it was nearly discarded but later adopted by an appreciative collector. In the 1960s, Kelly sublet her New York City apartment to a man who subsequently discovered several boxes she left behind. He contacted her to offer to return the boxes, but she declined. However, he thought that the contents were fascinating and kept the boxes for over 50 years. When he passed away, his widow – realizing that Kelly must have been important as one of the few women working in early television – donated the material to the UMD libraries.

Early Career

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