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The Long Drive for Women’s Suffrage: Using Chronicling America to Explore the Time and Place of an Unfolding Event

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This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence.

One hundred years ago next month, Alice Burke and Nell Richardson began a journey across the United States to promote women’s right to vote. Following their route can allow students to learn about them and their journey while also revealing more about the suffragist movement and women in the United States a century ago.

"Golden Flyer" leaving New York, 4/6/16
“Golden Flyer” leaving New York, 4/6/16

Begin with a photograph of the two women in their car. Ask students to analyze the photo using the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Students may notice the large crowd surrounding the car. They may wonder about the date and list of cities on the side of the car. Add a related photo, with caption, to help students identify the women, their destination, and purpose. Analyzing the two photos will give students a rudimentary understanding of the cross country event, but exploring reports about the journey reveals even more.

Challenge students to find as much information about the trip as they can in the historic newspapers in Chronicling America. Generate ideas about search strategies and terms. Students may suggest restricting the search to 1916 and using the search terms Alice Burke, Nell Richardson, and Golden Flyer. Encourage students to share results with each other and refine their search techniques.

Suffragettes - Mrs. Alice Burke and Nell Richardson in the suffrage automobile "Golden Flyer" in which they will drive from New York to San Francisco. April 7, 1916.
Mrs. Alice Burke and Nell Richardson in the suffrage automobile “Golden Flyer” in which they will drive from New York to San Francisco. April 7, 1916.

As students read articles about the women’s journey, track the time, place, and highlights of different articles. In addition, look for conflicting or confirming information between multiple articles. Several articles report on the April 6th departure of Alice Burke and Nell Richardson. How do the news stories inform the photo? What other information was reported?

For example, students might compare the list of cities on the car to what the newspapers report. Many early reports point to Weehawken, New Jersey, as the first stop on the tour and others state that stops will be made in Chicago and St. Louis.

A Mount Vernon, Ohio, article gives specifics of how they will make the trip, described as a first of its kind. Crossing the country may not seem difficult to students today, but an article indicating that the women had to pass by El Paso because of “bad roads” may hint at possible difficulties a century ago.

As students become familiar with the journey from east to west coast and back, pose questions to encourage them to think about the sources and context of these newspaper articles.

  • When is the trip reported on most?
  • Where is the trip reported from? Are there states or specific newspapers that highlight this story more than others?
  • How are the women and their trip portrayed in the different news stories? What features of the article inform your idea?
  • What aspects of the trip are highlighted? Do the articles focus on the purpose of the trip – to promote women’s suffrage – or are other details highlighted?

Chronicling America allows us to explore an event as it unfolds over time, perceptions of that event from across the country, and movement across the country, both for the event itself and where it was reported.

What events do your students learn about that could be explored in this way through Chronicling America?

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