Digital Exhibit Celebrates Voting and 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

This post was written by Laura Cleary, Instruction and Outreach Librarian at the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections and University Archives. Some of the text in this post was adapted from the Get Out the Vote exhibition.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of 15th amendment granting African American suffrage and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women suffrage, the University of Maryland Libraries created an exhibition to explore the history of voting rights in the United States of America. Debates over who had the right to vote, the mechanisms and timing of elections, and who is eligible to run for office have raged for hundreds of years. Barriers to voting have led many to advocate for a more representative electorate and to encourage greater participation in local, state, and national elections. At the heart of the fight for voting rights are these advocates and grassroot organizations who have demanded 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.” Get Out The Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America utilizes material from the University of Maryland Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives to tell these stories.

This exhibition allows visitors an opportunity to explore women’s role in the expansion of voting rights that culminated in the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. The exhibition highlights that complex history using 19th century pamphlets from the Rare Book Collection that illustrate the political and moral arguments supporting and opposing women’s suffrage and that speak to the political and social divisiveness surrounding the right to vote for women.

Also featured in the exhibit are items from archival collections related to suffrage organizations and prominent suffragists’ arguments for supporting women’s suffrage. Organizations like the League of Women Voters, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and suffragists across the country passionately and eloquently argued that granting women the right to vote would strengthen society and individual women’s rights, despite fears that allowing women suffrage rights would negatively impact their morality.

Photograph of American Suffragists, 4 May 1912. Baltimore News American collection

Suffragists with Capitol in background, Washington DC, 1 March 1913. Baltimore News American collection
The Suffragist, 26 February 1916. Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage Newsletter collection

Many argued against these rights, including other groups of organized women.

Groups concerned with women’s rights more broadly also supported suffrage rights. We featured material from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who advocated for a broad range of societal changes to improve women’s safety, security and potential for independence.

Once the 19th amendment and women’s suffrage rights were secured, many suffragists turned their attention toward educating voters and getting women to the polls. The League of Women’s Voters (LWV) was founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt. Their original platform included child labor laws and public health initiatives. Today, LWV groups are represented nationwide, organizing at the national, state and local levels. In addition to supporting voting rights, their platform includes advocacy for the environment, immigration, and healthcare.

Olivier, Warner. “The League of Frightened Women.” The Saturday Evening Post, 23 Oct. 1954. League of Women Voters of Maryland records.

Given the limitations of space, we were unable to include many relevant collections that explore the intersections of women, voting, activism and politics. Notable related collections include

We encourage you to explore beyond the items selected for this exhibition. The collections featured in the 19th amendment and League of Women Voters sections of the exhibition include

Learn more about the history of voting rights in America by exploring the exhibition

Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America

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