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Vilas County News, October 29, 1924

“Vote!” Election Day Pages in Historic Newspapers

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“My Vote is Freedom’s Privilege.”

“Vote as you shall wish you had when you come to die.”

“Vote–or shut up!”

In the weeks before Election Day, anyone opening a newspaper in the twentieth century could expect to find a reminder–on the front page, on the editorial page, or in a paid advertisement–of the importance of voting. This message might describe voting as a civic responsibility, as a tool for change, as an act of self-preservation, or as a right to aspire to. The tone of the message might be inspirational, matter-of-fact, or even borderline rude.

On October 29, 1924, Wisconsin’s Vilas County News sternly informed its readers that voting “is a privilege that carries with it the responsibility of the good American citizen to carry on the work of the patriots who gave us the Declaration of Independence.” It ended its column with a challenge: “Do not be a slacker–in this duty of citizenship. Vote–or shut up!”

The readers of the United Automobile Worker, a union newspaper in Detroit, were reminded in October of 1946, that voting can be a means for implementing change and addressing material needs. “Take your gripes to the ballot box on election day this year….throw your punches at the politicians in the 79th Congress who voted us into this mess….Fill up the ballot boxes with votes for fuller ice boxes!”

The Adak Sun, published at a U.S. Naval Station in the Aleutian Islands (“from the wind kissed playground of the Bering Sea”), urged service members on September 19, 1960, to make use of the absentee ballot. “….is there such a critter as a ‘good’ citizen who stays away from the polls?”

Adak Sun, September 26, 1960

Maryland Suffrage News, October 11, 1913

In 1913, seven years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote, the Maryland Suffrage News called for suffrage activists to campaign at polling places on Election Day. This work “shows by the obvious self-sacrifice that it entails that women really wish to vote, and second, it affords an unparalleled opportunity for reaching the voters.”

By searching for “Election Day” in Chronicling America, students can find many more historic newspaper features urging readers to vote. The following questions might help students explore these features further.

  • What persuasive techniques do the newspapers use to advance their case for voting?
  • What clues can help students identify what audience the article is addressing? Who is included in the article’s appeal? Who is excluded?
  • How could these appeals be made using today’s communication channels? How would they be similar or different?

Students can use the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool and Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Newspapers to examine these newspapers more closely.

If your students make Election Day discoveries in our collections, let us know in the comments!

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  1. Thanks–Keep up the good work!

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