This is a Woman’s World!

Content Warning: This post discusses issues related to sexual assault, abortion, and homophobia.

I just feel like women, they have minds and they have souls, as well as just hearts, and they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty.

Jo March, Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig, 2019)

Mother nature. Lady Liberty. The Divine Feminine. Womanhood and femininity are intertwined with our vocabulary, inherently linked with our everyday interactions, with the way we speak, the way we think, and the way we see the world around us. Maryland and Historical Collections (MDHC) here at SCUA wants to emphasize that intertwining and uplift women and femme-identifying individuals by highlighting one of our collections that centers their voices.

Specifically, this post will highlight MDHC’s off our backs records. off our backs, or oob for short, was a non-profit feminist journal by, for, and about women, published from 1970 until 2008 in Washington, D.C. The journal covered a wide range of radical and difficult topics, moving seamlessly from local to national to international women’s rights issues, extending its broad reach to ensure everyone who opened the journal’s pages felt seen and included. 

Description of the "Thumb Poke," a self-defense tactic that involves poking an attacker in the eye. A black-and-white illustration depicts one person's thumb overlaying another person's eye.

The journal gave readers a uniquely diverse knowledge of where women stood in the midst of worldwide issues, such as highlighting the plight and fight of Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War (Vol. 3, No. 7), while also providing local information to women in the DMV area, such as a full-page spread listing out the pros and cons of different abortion clinics and gynecological offices in the D.C. Metro area, published directly after Roe v. Wade (Vol. 3, No. 10). In addition, the journal included general survival tips that were useful for women everywhere, with one issue laying out different tactics for physically fighting off would-be rapists (a finger in the eye socket seems to do the trick).

off our backs balanced these necessary but sometimes upsetting facts and stories with the inclusion of beautiful art, prose, and poetry, all created by a diverse group of women. Issues of off our backs are easily recognizable, thanks in part to their bold cover art and unique illustrations.

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Pamphlets for Progress: Uplifting the Voices of Black Women

February is Black History Month, and coming up soon in March is Women’s History Month. In Maryland and Historical Collections (MDHC) here at SCUA, we’re approaching these important occasions as opportunities to uplift collection materials that represent the lived experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of Black women. First up in our review is the Women’s Studies pamphlet collection (0274-MDHC). This collection was first established by Susan Cardinale, UMD’s Associate Librarian for Special Collections, in the early 1970s, and has continued to grow. In total, the collection takes up 13.5 feet of shelf storage space in our stacks. Arranged alphabetically by subject, the pamphlets in this collection cover a variety of time periods and topics, including the experiences of Black women and women of color.

Black and White Image: Two women; one looking at the camera, one looking to the side. Text on top left side reads, 'Black Women’s Liberation' (the O in Liberation is a female sign [♀]). Text on bottom right reads, ‘by Maxine Williams and Pamela Newman’
Black Women’s Liberation (1971) by Maxine Williams and Pamela Newman

But what exactly is a pamphlet? In its most basic format, a pamphlet is a small, unbound (or loosely bound) book. Pamphlets are generally used to promote an organization’s mission or goals or to raise awareness for a campaign, social issue, or political movement. A well-known historical example is Common Sense, Thomas Paine’s 47-page pamphlet that circulated around the onset of the American Revolution and advocated for independence from Great Britain. Pamphlets can condense complex ideas or large movements into concise arguments that can be easily shared with others.

From the Women’s Studies pamphlet collection, we want to spotlight some pamphlets that are written by and for Black women. With titles like The Status of Women of Color in the Economy: The Legacy of Being Other, Black Women’s Liberation, and Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, these pamphlets discuss a range of social issues and are written for both readers with similar lived experiences as well as those seeking to be better allies. These pamphlets scrutinize obstacles, both historical and contemporary, that Black women have faced in the fight for justice, respect, and equal treatment and pay.

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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” Digitization Spotlight- Objections to Woman Suffrage Answered by Alice Stone Blackwell

The reasons why women should vote are the same reasons why men should vote – the same as the reasons for having a republic rather than a monarchy.

Alice Stone Blackwell, 1910

Each month, we shine the spotlight on items from the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America that have been fully digitized and made accessible online.

For January, we are showcasing Objections to Woman Suffrage Answered by Alice Stone Blackwell.

Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950) was a suffragist, journalist, editor, and activist. This pamphlet, printed in 1910 is her thorough examination and refutation of the arguments commonly made against women’s suffrage. Blackwell responds to 34 arguments, including:

  • Women “don’t understand business”
  • Women as voters could disrupt the established “division of labor”
  • Women suffrage “will lead to family quarrels and increase divorce”
  • If granted the franchise, women should also serve in military and police forces.

You can read the complete digitized pamphlet with of Blackwell’s arguments for women’s suffrage online in the Internet Archive.

Visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view this item and more on display in the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America or explore the exhibit online.

“Get Out the Vote” Digitization Spotlight- Annual Report of the Philadelphia Female Anti-slavery Society

To overthrow an institution which has grown up, to giant size, in the heart of a mighty nation; which has its foundations in the strongest depraved principles of human nature; which is surrounded and sustained by the sanctions of law and public opinion, and protected by the suffrage of a false religion; to destroy and utterly lay waste such an institution, and to do so by moral influence on the minds of the community, it is not the work of a day, or a year. Such a work is ours. It can be accomplished only by constant and unwearied effort, day after day, and year after year, by seizing every opportunity to pour a ray of light on the darkened understanding, or a softening influence on the hardened heart, till the mind of the nation is renovated, and the pillars of slavery are removed.

Annual Report for the Philadelphia Female Anti-slavery Society, 1938

Each month, we shine the spotlight on items from the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America that have been fully digitized and made accessible online.

For November, we are showcasing the Annual Report of the Philadelphia Female Anti-slavery Society.

The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (1833-1870) was formed by women who had been denied positions in the American Anti-Slavery Society, but responded to William Lloyd Garrison’s call for women to become actively involved in the abolition movement. the society circulated petitions to Congress, raised money through annual fairs, organized lectures, held conventions coordinated with other abolitionist women societies, and much more to aid anti-slavery causes in America.

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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. 

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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.”

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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.     

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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.” 

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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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