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 sex.U.S. Senate website, Art & History, Timeline: The Senate and the 19th Amendment
Introduced on January 10, 1878 by California Republican Senator Aaron Sargent, the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” took 42 years to be passed and ratified by the requisite states to become a part of the United States Constitution. Over the course of those 42 years, women organized to advocate for their rights, sending petitions, protesting, and lobbying lawmakers in Washington. In response, women were condescended to, reviled, vilified, and assaulted by opponents to woman suffrage.
The woman suffrage amendment was defeated in the Senate four times, in 1887, 1914, 1918, and June of 1919. The amendment passed the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919 and finally passed in the Senate on June 4, 1920. It was quickly ratified by the required three-fourths of states when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 26, 1920, granting women nationwide the right to vote. Their first opportunity to exercise that right happening just two months and seven days later in the 1920 election.
Last fall, I was asked to put together an exhibit commemorating the 19th Amendment to be displayed sometime in 2020. Generally, our exhibits highlight materials in one of our main collecting areas. National politics is not one of those collecting areas. Still, with a little searching of our catalog and finding aids, I was able to identify some unique and interesting items related to the fight for woman suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment.
If you happen to be in Newman Library before the end of the year, you can check out the Votes for Women exhibit in the Special Collections and University Archives windows on the first floor. For those who won’t be stopping by the library, some letters from suffragists included in our collections are highlighted here.
First are two letters from Adelaide Avery Claflin (July 28, 1846 – May 31, 1931) to Mrs. Hollander discussing an upcoming speaking engagement for the woman suffrage association. These are from the Adelaide A. Claflin Letters (Ms1992-005). Claflin was a resident of Quincy, Massachusetts and began speaking publicly in support of woman suffrage in 1883. She became a member of the Qunicy school committee in 1884 and was the first known woman to hold elected office in the town. For more about Claflin and the suffrage movement in Qunicy, check out Remember the Ladies: Woman’s Suffrage and the Black Holes of Local History on the Quincy History Blog.
The first letter reads:
Tues. Nov. 11 1884,
I have received a note from Mrs. Stone, (giving me your name simply as above,) and asking me to communicate with you in case I were willing to speak for you in Somerville on Sunday, the 22d and on the same subject on which I lately spoke in South Boston. As the 22nd is Saturday, I am left in a little doubt as to the real date desired, and I am also a little embarrassed in my writing by some other causes. I have a bad cold just now, but probably would be well enough to speak by that time, and would like to do so, as far as I know at present. But I did not speak, exactly, at So. Boston, I read a written essay upon “What women as a class owe to each other”, and this essay, substantially, was read to the Somerville Woman’s Club a year ago. I do not know whether that club is in the same part of Somerville, or whether that would be any objection. I should, therefore be glad to hear further from you in regard to the circumstances, as Mrs. Stone’s note was extremely brief.
Very truly yours,
Adelaide A. Claflin
21 Chestnut St.
The second letter reads:
Friday, Nov. 14, 1884,
My dear Mrs. Hollander,
I am much obliged for your explanation in regard to the lectures and I am glad such a course is undertaken. With regard to myself, I only mentioned the So. Boston paper, because Mrs. Stone wrote to me about that. I have spoken for the Massachusetts Suffrage Association, upon that question, a good many times within the past two years, and feel that I can always say something upon most aspects of the woman suffrage question. Mrs. Stone has often asked me to speak upon municipal suffrage because she liked my presentation of that subject – but some of the Somerville friends have very likely heard me speak upon it in Boston, and I would rather prefer myself to speak in a more general way. I have had some experience in regards to schools, having been teacher, mother, and school committee, and had some special advantages here in Quincy where educational matters have been much discussed, and I have been in the thick of it. How would you like as subject “The need of the feminine influence in the school, the town, and the state”? Or if that is too large – the first two leaving out the “state”? I think I could make some useful points in an address of that kind. But if there is any special branch of the suffrage, or woman question, which would be more desirable to you as a step in the unfolding of your scheme of lectures I think it would be safe enough for your President to announce it for me for the 23rd. I have studied the woman question all my life, and while I do not profess to have solved as great a problem, I feel pretty sure I can talk about most parts of it in a tolerably rational manner. I write thus because there is not time before Sunday for me to hear from you and write again as to subject, and I should like to meet the wishes of the committee in that respect. I should be glad to know how long an address is desired and whether it is to be in a parlor or a church, etc.
Very truly yours
Adelaide A. Claflin,
21 Chestnut St.,
As an alternative subject I might suggest “The reaction of equal rights upon woman and society.”
Next is a letter from Lila M. Valentine to J. D. Eggleston, president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, from the Records of the Office of the President, Joseph Dupuy Eggleston (Record Group 2/7). Lila Meade Valentine was co-founder of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and served as its first president. Learn more about her at Encyclopedia Virginia.
The letter from Valentine reads:
Dr. J. D. Eggleston. April 2, 1915
My dear [cousin?].
Can you arrange for me to speak any one of the following days, April 21, 22, 23, 24, 26? I am to help in the Pennsylvania campaign in ?? City April 28. I should greatly appreciate a prompt reply as I have several other invitations to fill in, and only wait your decision to readjust them because of your May 1st limit.
Lila M Valentine
I regret very much that you felt compelled to resign from our State Board of Education. We can ill afford to do without your valuable aid. L.M.V.
Finally, a letter from Eulalie Salley to Mrs. Francis Bear of Roanoke, Virginia, from the Eulalie Salley Letter (Ms2013-079). Salley was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1883 and lived on her grandparents’ plantation in Louisville, Georgia before moving to Aiken, South Carolina in 1892. Her education included a year each at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia and Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Around 1912, Salley organized the Aiken County Equal Suffrage League and served as its first president. She campaigned for suffrage by door-to-door canvassing, hosting fundraisers, and even dropping leaflets from an airplane. The end of this letter mentions her efforts to elect Gilbert McMillan to office in South Carolina and his role in South Carolina finally ratifying the 19th Amendment in 1969, 50 years after it became part of the U.S. Constitution. Learn more about Eulalie Salley in the South Carolina Encyclopedia.
The Eulalie Salley letter reads:
Eulalie Salley, Realtor
Post Office Box 622
111 Park Avenue, S. W.
Aiken, South Carolina 29801
January 12, 1974
Mrs. Francis Bear,
“Bearcliff” 100 Etheridge Road,
Roanoke, Virginia 24018
I’m not at all surprised that your Mother did not tell you about my interest in politics. She and I are always so busy talking about members of the family that there is no time for anything else during her fleeting visits. In fact, most of our time is taken up with talk about that beautiful boy of yours.
I am so glad to know of your interest in politics. I’m wondering if you have joined the League of Women Voters or any other Woman’s organization in Roanoke. If not, you should, fo you would find it fasinating. I don’t see why you don’t begin right now to run for some public office—maybe by starting off with City Council or the State Legislature.
Here in Aiken we have a woman County Commissioner and a woman member of the South Carolina Lefislature. I campained for both of them, along with my faithful Gilbert McMillan. (Gilbert is a distant cousin of Louises’ husband, Raiford). He is the one who got the South Carolina legislature to ratify the Nineteenth amendment, a bill women had been working on for fifty years with no success.
Gilbert was a new commer and we decided we needed some one fresh in the Senate so 300 women got out and campained and elected him. It was very exciting.
It took me a long time to find out that if you wanted a law passed, you had better get your own man and get him to go to Columbia and pass it for you.
I hope Jody will do well in his school and I know you are going to be proud of him.
In addition to these materials, the Special Collections and University Archives exhibit also includes articles about women’s voting from the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1920, items from the New York Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and some suffrage cookbooks. If you get a chance to stop by the library while the exhibit is up, check it out to see everything on display. If you don’t make it in before 2021, the items are always available to view upon request.