NAWSA Suffragists

By Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Kish Sklar

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This edition of the Online Biographical Dictionary consists of biographical sketches of three distinct groups of woman suffrage activists:

• Black women suffragists
• Militant suffragists associated with the National Woman’s Party
• Mainstream suffragists affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association

In this essay we introduce the biographical sketches of women suffragists affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  We focus on how we assembled the group and the crowdsourcing by which we have acquired biographical sketches of these grassroots supporters of the mainstream suffrage movement.  Given the emphasis in historical accounts of woman suffrage on the movement’s national leaders, the Online Biographical Dictionary will offer a distinctly different and welcome view of that movement as experienced at the state and local levels.

Our work on Black women suffragists and National Woman’s Party supporters had already begun when we decided that we would expand the scope of the project to include the full range of woman suffrage activists.

Searching for a way to compile a substantial list of mainstream women suffragists, 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 2,700 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 (predominantly 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 grew exponentially in this process, but we were glad we could offer a representative view of the diverse woman suffrage movement that emerged in the two decades before passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

With the choice of this source for our list of mainstream suffragists, we knew that crowdsourcing would be the only viable way to secure biographical sketches of such a large number of activists. Since the narrative in the History of Woman Suffrage was organized into state reports, we tried to secure state coordinators who would be responsible for recruiting crowdsourcing volunteers for suffragists in their states. These coordinators have been quite successful finding librarians, history professors, students, genealogists and others who have researched and written one or two brief scholarly essays about identified suffragists.  State coordinators also assisted volunteers in their research and writing, and they also copyedited and fact checked the resulting biographical sketches.For a list of state coordinators, copyeditors, and genealogists, click here.

In this process we sometimes discovered that there was already an organized statewide effort to commemorate the 2020 centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, and that we could coordinate our efforts with those already underway in particular states.  In this way we joined state efforts in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Wyoming, Nevada and New Jersey and we are sharing work and double posting the resulting biographical sketches. We are also coordinating with the Schlesinger Library and the National Park Service, discussing ways that we might collaborate to disseminate the biographical sketches more broadly.

We secured coordinators for work in 41 states, thus dramatically sharing work that would otherwise have fallen entirely on the project’s organizer, Thomas Dublin. We are including the remaining states and Washington, D.C. in the Online Biographical Dictionary, but without the intermediate level of support from state coordinators.  One very positive outcome of this decentralization was that state coordinators often recommended that we add important suffragists omitted from the original NAWSA state reports. As the work of securing volunteers and assigning activists went forward, we added about 150 new suffragists to the NAWSA group.  State coordinators also often succeeded in increasing the ethnic or racial diversity of our mainstream suffragist list.  In Delaware and Maryland we added significant numbers of Black women suffragists.  They were not members of NAWSA affiliates in those states, but they were active suffragists who coordinated their efforts with white allies. Other outreach efforts modestly increased the representation of Native American, Latina, and Asian-American suffragists who were not well represented in NAWSA affiliates.

We are now (March 2019) publishing online the first fruits of this crowdsourcing effort.  This first installment of the Free-standing Edition of the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States comprises 940 biographical sketches, including 160 sketches of Black women suffragists, 320 NWP supporters, and 460 NAWSA suffragists. We are steadily assigning sketches for the remaining women activists and will be publishing additions to this resource every six months through 2021.  When complete, we anticipate a total of about 3,300 biographical sketches.  We will add new activists and new sketches to each group as new information comes to us. If you would like to recommend additional women suffragists, please write to tdublin@binghamton.edu.

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