We invite learners of all ages to explore the long, complex, and ongoing efforts to ensure full citizenship for women in the United States.
In honor of the centennial of the 1920 ratification of the Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which declared that the right to vote could not be denied “on account of sex,” the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library at Harvard University has invited a broad array of researchers, writers, and teachers to join us in creating a series of digital teaching modules. Each lesson in our Suffrage School connects in rich and unpredictable ways to the Library’s Long 19th Amendment Project, which tackles the tangled history of gender and American citizenship. Every module is anchored by a short informal video in which the guest instructor “opens” a primary source from the Schlesinger’s collections, helping students and teachers to understand both the text (or object) and its historical context. Each lesson includes a link to the digitized documents, questions to guide further reflection, and—in some cases—additional readings.
Suffrage School opened on June 1, 2020, and will release videos at regular intervals for the remainder of the centennial year. We invite you to explore the first series of the Suffrage School’s lessons.
Instructor: Corinne T. Field, an associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality at the University of Virginia and the inaugural (2018–2019) Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at Radcliffe.
Field directs our attention to a program souvenir that was printed for Susan B. Anthony’s 80th birthday.
Instructor: Manisha Sinha, the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and a 2019-2020 Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard.
Sinha invites you to explore the unique 1855 wedding vows between the suffragists and abolitionists Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell.
Instructor: Allison K. Lange, associate professor of history at Wentworth Institute of Technology and visit curator of Seeing Citizens: Picturing American Women’s Fight for the Vote at the Schlesinger Library.
Lange invites you to consider a photograph from the exhibition of abolitionist and women’s right advocate, Sojourner Truth. Truth (1797–1883) was enslaved for the first 30 years of her life and she—like contemporary Frederick Douglass—understood well the power of photography to challenge stereotypes.
Instructor: Liette Gidlow, associate professor of history at Wayne State University and a 2019–2020 Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard.
Gidlow invites you to consider a 1917 letter from Mary Dennett (1872–1947), a pioneer in birth control advocacy, sex education, and suffrage, to Lucy Burns (1879–1966), cofounder of the National Women’s Party (NWP). Dennett had not always seen eye-to-eye with Burn’s more militant approach to winning the vote, but in this letter she announces her intention to join the NWP, explaining that “every drop of revolutionary blood in me boils” at the encroachments on right to free speech by then-President Woodrow Wilson.
Instructor: Beth Lew-Williams, associate professor of history at Princeton University.
Lew-Williams invites you to consider a 1926 newspaper article that reports on a speech made by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935). Gilman, perhaps best known for her now-canonical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” was an advocate for women’s rights and a pioneering economic theorist. Yet her progressive views on subjects ranging from household labor to women’s suffrage sit uneasily with her embrace of racial hierarchy, closed national boarders, and even eugenic thought. This startling lesson explores the entanglement of Gilman’s feminism and her nativism–which, as Lew-Williams points out, reinforced each other.
Instructor: Susan Ware, an independent scholar, a feminist biographer, and the honorary women’s suffrage centennial historian at the Schlesinger Library.
Ware directs our attention to a 1919 handbill, “Seeing is Believing!” This flyer, distributed by members of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, depicts the status of women’s suffrage, state by state. Ware considers how suffragists used such images to suggest that a national victory was inevitable, despite the challenges that we can also detect in these 100-year-old inforgraphics.
Instructor: Kimberly A. Hamlin, an associate professor in the Department of History at Miami University, in Ohio.
Professor Hamlin directs our attention to a 1917 Congressional report, authored by the famed suffragist Maud Wood Park, that details the gritty legislative efforts involved in the fight for the vote. She highlights the creation of the House Committee on Women’s Suffrage as a turning point in the struggle and helps us to trace the 19th Amendment’s journey through Congress.
To learn more about the Suffrage School including additional resources, visit www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/suffrage-school.
Radcliffe if Harvard University’s institute for advanced study: a laboratory of ideas that brings together students, scholars, and practitioners from the humanities, sciences, social sciences, arts, and professions and engages with questions that demand cross-disciplinary exploration. Learn more about the people and programs of the Radcliffe Institute at www.radcliffe.harvard.edu.