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Crowdsourcing and the Papers of Mary Church Terrell, Suffragist, and Civil Rights Activist

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Mary Church Terrell

In 2020 the United States will mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the nineteenth amendment, which removed barriers to women voting. If students were asked the names of those who were active in the suffrage movement, they might list Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Alice Paul. It is less likely that they would name Mary Church Terrell.

Terrell was one of the founders and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women. A noted educator and speaker, she lectured and wrote about women’s rights, civil rights, and educational programming for African Americans. She lived the motto of the National Association of Colored Women, “Lifting as we climb,” fighting for suffrage, working to support self-help programs, and going to court to fight against separate facilities for whites and African Americans.

By the People

The papers of Mary Church Terrell, housed in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress, are currently featured as part of By the People. This new crowdsourcing program from the Library invites and encourages people to help transcribe collections to make them accessible to a larger number of users. Teachers can use “By the People” to immerse their students in the words of notable people from history while also encouraging students to provide a service to future researchers.

Here are some suggestions for using the materials from the Mary Church Terrell collection:

  • Students may note that many of the materials in the collection are in cursive. What are the benefits of being able to read cursive, and especially when reading historic documents? What do they believe will happen to the study of history if people are unable to read cursive?
  • Pair students and direct them to transcribe one item from the collections together. What strategies did they discover to make it easier to read the cursive writing?
  • Ask students, working alone or with a partner, to review a set of the Terrell collection materials that have already been transcribed. What terms can they identify to tag the document with that might help future researchers locate these resources?

Explore the teacher tips for additional ideas to bring the Terrell papers or other By the People projects to your students. Let us know what your students discover!

Comments (4)

  1. I especially like the second suggestion for students to “transcribe one item from the collections together.” As they build a list of tips together, they will begin to own the process and at the same provide a service to future student transcribers.

    On an unrelated note, I have been transcribing pages of Clara Barton’s diaries and was surprised to learn that she, too, was active in the suffrage movement.

  2. I am researching Black suffragists in New Jersey. Any direction Would be appreciated.

  3. I transcribed speeches by Mary Church Terrell this summer and realized that I enjoyed “White privilege” in a new and deep way. Terrell wrote extensively on lynching and when I read some of her speeches about the topic I said to myself, “Oh, I had forgotten about that happening.” That’s White privilege. Not being able to shop in a store without being followed is not a privilege, it is a right. White privilege is being able to totally forget that hundreds of African American citizens were lynched and their bodies desecrated by White citizens as recently as the 50s (and some would say is still happening). I never again want to forget that happened.

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