March is Women’s History Month. It began in 1981 when Congress authorized the President to proclaim the week of March 7, 1982 as Women’s History Week. The first Women’s History Month was celebrated in 1987. As we commemorate women’s contributions to society and gear up to participate in celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and the passing of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote in 2020, we thought we’d share a bit of history about the women’s rights movement as well as a few items from the Americana Collection.
Suffragist Alice Paul became a DAR member in 1936. She joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912 and was appointed Chairman of the organization's Congressional Committee in Washington. In 1917, Paul participated in what may have been the first political protest to picket in front of the White House. She was arrested along with other participants and sent to prison at what was then the Occoquan Workhouse in Lorton, Virginia. Paul proceeded to organize a hunger strike and endured force-feedings, beatings, and other torture including sleep deprivation. It was Alice Paul who nicknamed the Nineteenth Amendment "The Anthony Amendment" after suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony.
The Americana Collection includes several letters written by Susan B. Anthony, who herself became a DAR member in 1898. She was inspired initially to the cause of women's rights when she found out that the male teachers at her school earned more than she earned for equal work. Later, an introduction to Elizabeth Cady Stanton through a mutual friend further solidified her beliefs in the equality of women to men. Anthony was co-author of the first four volumes of the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage.
Anthony and several other women appeared before Congress in the days following the National Woman Suffrage Association's Sixteenth Annual Washington Convention in March 1884. The women testified in support of a Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. Indiana Republican Congressman Thomas McLelland Browne contributed to a statement in support of women's suffrage that was read into the Congressional Record on April 24, 1884. Anthony wrote to Browne for 1,000 copies of his remarks for distribution to the Association's "members and friends."
Among the treasures in the Americana Collection is a letter Anthony wrote to friend and colleague Ella Jones. On the occasion of Jones's mother's death in 1897, Anthony wrote, "I have not met your dear mother in many years—but have always kept her in my list of honored and effective pioneer friends of suffrage." She goes on to assert that "the only real pleasure in living is in the feeling that we are helping to lift the world along toward the brighter and better."
The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1869. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was founded by Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe also in 1869. The differences that separated the two organizations were largely political ones. In 1890, the suffragists agreed to merge the two organizations to create the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Susan B. Anthony served as president of NAWSA from 1892 to 1900.
The American Woman Suffrage Association published a monthly “Woman Suffrage Leaflet” during the late 19th century. The September 15, 1888 issue contains the text of a statement made by suffragist Lucy Stone at a woman suffrage hearing before the Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature on February 17, 1885. Stone made the argument that because certain issues affect women as much as or more than men, it was inherently unfair that only men should make the laws.
In addition to Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul, suffragists Julia Ward Howe, Belva Lockwood, and Frances Willard were DAR members.