Mothers and Daughters in the Movement

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Novara, historian in the Library’s Manuscript Division and a co-curator of the exhibition Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote.

This August marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, and today, August 26th, marks the centennial of its certification. The amendment was the culmination of over seventy years of work by multiple generations of activists. The theme of motherhood in the suffrage movement appears often, as women’s role as nurturers and a belief in women’s moral superiority were used as arguments to convince the American public that women should have the right to vote. Women marched with their children in strollers in parades, insisting that mothers needed the vote to protect their children’s and community’s welfare. And among the leading suffrage activists are a number of mothers whose daughters joined and then built on their mothers’ activism, making unique contributions for their own generation.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her daughter and granddaughter

Three generations of suffragists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, and granddaughter, Nora Stanton Blatch Barney, circa 1890. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Declaration of Sentiments protested women’s inferior political, economic, and legal status and was presented at the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), its primary author, was a leader of the early phases of the women’s suffrage movement, and one of the best-known mothers who supported suffrage.

Of her seven children, Stanton had two daughters, Margaret and Harriot.  Harriot Stanton Blatch (1856-1940) followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming an active suffrage leader in England and in the United States. Blatch’s ideas diverged from her mother’s in that she believed strongly that working class women needed the vote more so than elite white women. Blatch founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, later known as the Women’s Political Union, and later joined the National Woman’s Party, the more radical wing of the American suffrage movement.

Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwell

Suffragist Lucy Stone (1818-1893) helped initiate the first national women’s rights convention at Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850, and she was an important and sought-after lecturer on the subjects of abolition and women’s rights. With Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and her husband, Henry Blackwell, Stone helped lead the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). The first truly national suffrage organization, AERA coordinated campaigns in a dozen states and Congress in support of universal suffrage for all African Americans and women.

When the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution gave the vote to African American men, but did not include women, members of the association disagreed over supporting the amendments. As dissension grew, the women’s suffrage movement splintered into two groups in 1869.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association with a focus on pressing for a federal amendment enfranchising women. Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, among others, formed the competing American Woman Suffrage Association, which advocated universal suffrage and state-by-state enfranchisement of women.

Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950), the only surviving child of Lucy and Henry, followed in the family occupation of suffrage and carried on her mother’s legacy into the early twentieth century.  Blackwell and Harriot Stanton Blatch were instrumental in re-uniting their mothers’ divergent suffrage organizations, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Alice was the secretary of this new organization for twenty years and the Woman’s Journal, which her parents had founded, became the voice of NAWSA. NAWSA and the National Woman’s Party would lead the final phase of the suffrage movement that culminated in the 19th amendment.

Mary Church Terrell and Phyllis Terrell

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) was a prominent lecturer, outspoken anti-lynching advocate, and vigorous supporter of black women’s suffrage, which she saw as part of elevating the status of African Americans. She was the founding president of the National Association of Colored Women and was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Terrell formed important personal relationships with many of the leaders within the women’s suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony. Anthony sent of copy of her biography to Terrell’s daughter, Phyllis, expressing the hope that Phyllis would follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Mary Church Terrell and Phyllis joined the National Woman’s Party and took part in picketing the White House during 1917. Phyllis Terrell Langston later donated her mother’s papers to the Library of Congress, ensuring that her mother’s civil rights and suffrage activism would be remembered.  The papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan. B. Anthony, and the Blackwell Family, and other women’s suffrage leaders can also be found at the Library of Congress.

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Postcard with babies holding a flag reading "Votes for Our Mothers"

Sample postcard, ca. 1915: Rose O’Neill (1874–1944), “Votes for Our Mothers.” Breckinridge Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

You can learn more by helping the Library to transcribe the papers of suffrage activists through the By the People transcription project, or join us on September 25-27 for the National Book Festival online. This year’s event will include a series of programs on “Fearless Women,” and will include conversations with the following authors of books for children and teens:

  • Rebecca Boggs Roberts and Lucinda Robb, The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World
  • Veronica Chambers, Finish the Fight! The Brave, Unruly, and Radical Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote

Here are a few additional suggested children’s books, with more listed on the Library’s website.

  • Gillibrand, Kirsten. Bold and Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.
  • Karr, Kathleen. Mama Went to Jail for the Vote. New York: Hyperion Books, 2005.
  • Rappaport, Doreen. Elizabeth Started All the Trouble. Los Angeles; New York: Disney Hyperion, 2016.
  • Rockliff, Mara. Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016.

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