Introduction to the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States

December 2023


By Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Kish Sklar

With the passing of the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 2020, historians, and Americans more generally, are becoming increasingly aware of the significance of the struggle for woman suffrage that stretched for more than 72 years. Beginning at Seneca Falls in July 1848, a social movement emerged that aimed to secure for women full citizenship rights that included the right to vote. Drawing on the founding mantra of the Revolutionary Era, women reformers echoed the earlier demand, "No Taxation Without Representation." Their claims, moreover, extended far beyond simply the right to vote and by 1923 the more encompassing demand for full equality emerged with the call for an Equal Rights Amendment, still not secured after another century. And for Black women, the struggle extended well into the 1960s.

Beginning with the 1959 publication of Eleanor Flexner's Century of Struggle, an enormous literature has appeared over more than six decades illuminating the emergence, first, of the Woman's Rights Movement and then a more focused woman suffrage movement. There have been national and state-level studies, biographies of the movement's leaders, and studies of women's steady advance into American politics. With the flurry of new scholarship that was stimulated by the suffrage centennial, we are beginning to see a significant revision of Flexner's earlier synthesis.

In Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, Martha S. Jones has described Black women's efforts to secure the vote and then spearhead voter registration in the face of coordinated white supremacist efforts to block Black voting. Cathleen D. Cahill, in Recasting the Vote, provides a multi-racial view of the suffrage movement that includes Black, Latina, Native American, and Asian American contributions to the struggle.[1] Scholars now acknowledge that the movement began earlier than the 1848 Seneca Falls meeting and that with Black women's struggles it extended through the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act.[2]

This Online Biographical Dictionary is an effort to construct a resource consistent with this new overarching synthesis. Here we have collected biographical sketches of grassroots women suffrage activists, drawn principally from the period 1890-1920 as the struggle for woman suffrage took its final form. As the database now reaches (in December 2023) about 3,750 activists, it will be helpful to describe the evolution of this project, for in that process we made decisions that have shaped the final database.

Work for this project began in 2008 as Tom Dublin approached Rosalyn Terborg-Penn with a proposal to assemble on the online journal and database, WOMEN AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1600-2000 (WASM), an archive of the writings of Black women suffragists. The work proceeded slowly, but in March 2014 we published online the first installment of a collection of writings by and about Black women suffragists which has now reached more than 1,900 items.

At the same time that we were constructing the Writings of Black Women Suffragists, the historian Jill D. Zahniser learned about our work and approached us with a proposal to publish on the website a database of militant suffragists who picketed the White House in 1917-1919 under the banner of the National Woman's Party in the final push for passage of the 19th Amendment. She shared with us an excel spreadsheet of 224 women active in that campaign. She also expressed the idea that we might build on the NWP and Black Suffragists groups and develop an American version of Elizabeth Crawford's fine British resource, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928 (1999).

We responded favorably to her ideas, but added a new element that we should reach out to our readers and the public more generally to crowdsource biographical sketches of these militant suffragists to post on WASM. Dr. Zahniser prepared six biographical sketches to serve as examples, which we published in March 2015 along with an introduction, the initial database, and a call for volunteers to complete about 200 additional sketches.

To expand beyond these two groups we also needed to include mainstream suffragists in our work and began a search for a likely source or sources for additional names of activists. In the course of this work, we discovered that volume 6 of the History of Woman Suffrage (1922) consisted of about 700 pages of reports describing women suffrage activities between 1900 and 1920 in all 48 states and the District of Columbia. These reports were written by leaders in each of the states and contain some 2,800 names of state-level suffrage activists in the campaigns of those decades. Published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), this volume identified the grassroots activists of the almost entirely white state affiliates of NAWSA, thus complementing the Black suffragists and militant white NWP activists we had been working with in our two initial suffrage projects. The project had grown exponentially in this process, but we now felt we had a strategy to offer a representative view of the very diverse woman suffrage movement that emerged in the two decades before passage of the 19th Amendment.

As we published calls for volunteers, our three groups of suffragists grew significantly. After the initial publication of scholarly essays and writings of Black women suffragists, we decided to crowdsource biographical sketches for Black activists for whom there were no readily-available sketches in major reference works. As we researched the initial 70 suffragists we had culled from Rosalyn Terborg-Penn's work and looked for additional writings, we identified many new suffragists. By now (June 2023) that number has grown to 450 Black women suffragists to be included in the Online Biographical Dictionary. Similarly, our NWP militant suffragists group grew from 224 to 420 as Jill D. Zahniser and our volunteers kept finding new activists and additional NWP demonstrations beyond Washington, D.C. Lastly, as we secured state coordinators for crowdsourcing the massive NAWSA-affiliated group, these volunteers identified additional important suffragists overlooked by the contributors to volume 6 of the History of Woman Suffrage. That group has grown to 2,880 suffrage activists. There are duplicates across the three groups—NWP militants who also worked with NAWSA; Black suffragists active in the NWP or in some of the NAWSA state affiliates; NAWSA activists whose names appear in two or more state reports—but we still estimate our final database will provide biographical sketches for 3,750 women suffrage activists.

The Online Biographical Dictionary now (in December 2023) includes 3,750 biographical sketches of NAWSA mainstream suffragists, Black women suffragists, and NWP militant suffragists. We are posting this resource on two websites—first, a freely-accessible version of the database accessible at; second, as part of the online database, Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, accessible through the database sections of websites at 500 subscribing academic libraries. The crowdsourcing phase of this work has been completed and we expect in the future to add only a modest number of sketches of new women suffragists and revisions of existing ones.

We have identified 68 suffragists as still "impossible to find." They are part of the groups of activists identified for NAWSA, the NWP, and Black suffragists, but volunteers were unable to find enough information about them to write biographical sketches. Click here to view the lists and contact Tom Dublin if you know something about any of these suffragists and would like to write a 500-word biographical sketch.

To cite a biographical sketch from the Online Biographical Dictionary follow this example: Author, "Biography of [Name of activist]," Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States, accessed online at [provide URL of the sketch].

Because the free-standing version of the OBD is freely accessible, it is best to cite the URLs for those biographical sketches.


An excerpt from the first scholarly review of the OBD:

". . . the OBD is a monumental achievement in documenting the history of American women, and, indeed, of America itself. It showcases the possibilities for crowdsourced history and brings into focus thousands of women whose names and contributions had previously gone unstated and unknown. The individual entries will inspire future research, future activism, and future digital history projects."

Kimberly A. Hamlin, in Journal of American History, 109:4 (March 2023), 968-71.


1. Martha S. Jones, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (New York: Basic Books, 2020); Cathleen D. Cahill, Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020).
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2. Two works that contribute to this expanded timeframe are Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014) and Susan Ware, Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 2019).
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