Summer Suffrage Transcription Challenge Wrap-up

Today’s guest post is from Abby Shelton, a Digital Collections Specialist in the Digital Content Management Section. 

Image 1. Chart showing the spikes in number of pages that volunteers completed in the NAWSA and Blackwell campaigns during the July-August 2022 summer suffrage challenge.

By the People volunteers completed over 9,000 pages this summer to meet our summer suffrage challenge! Our aim was to finish reviewing transcriptions for the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the Blackwell Family Papers campaigns. And with the exception of a handful of extremely challenging pages, volunteers met the charge! We’re looking forward to bringing the transcriptions for these collections back into loc.gov where they will be beneficial to researchers of all kinds.

By the People launched the NAWSA and Blackwell campaigns in 2020 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which secured the legal right for women to vote in the US. These collections document the organizational and personal histories of the suffrage movement. In addition, they connect women’s suffrage to a web of causes pursued by 19th and 20th century reformers, including temperance, abolition, international human rights, labor unions, and many more. By the time 2022 rolled around, volunteers had transcribed the entirety of both but we still needed help to finish the review of those transcriptions before we could mark NAWSA and Blackwell as complete. At the outset of the challenge in July 2022, the NAWSA campaign had 4 pages in progress and 3,131 pages left to review in order to complete all 41,130 pages of the collection. The Blackwell Family Papers had 50 pages in progress and 7,399 pages left to review to complete all 56,187 pages in the campaign. We set aside July and August 2022 to focus volunteer attention on suffrage materials and volunteers came through!

Image 2. Undated pamphlet by Alice Stone Blackwell enumerating the reasons why women should gain the vote, published by NAWSA. //www.loc.gov/item/mss1288000669/

The summer suffrage challenge by the numbers was a truly impressive effort. In the months of July and August, volunteers completed an average of 108 pages per day in the NAWSA campaign and 130 pages per day on average in the Blackwell Family Papers campaign. Both campaigns experienced big jumps in activity (see Image 1), NAWSA beginning in July for the first part of the challenge and the Blackwell Family Papers in August when we pivoted to focus on that collection. Over the course of the entire lifecycle of both campaigns (since 2020), 8,142 registered volunteers have worked on transcribing and reviewing these pages, in addition to untold numbers of anonymous transcribers, and for that we are grateful!

We also heard from volunteers all over the country who sent in suffrage facts in exchange for a By the People postcard. Volunteers from MD, VA, FL, TX, NY, CO, OR, CA, MA, AZ, NJ, IL, RI, SC, WY, PA, GA and the UK wrote to us! Some of the tid-bits that volunteers learned from transcribing are below (paraphrased):

1. One of Alice Stone Blackwell’s friends, Eliza O. Putnam, was a journalist and newspaper editor who started a daily news page in the 1890s for the New York Recorder focused on the women’s movement. You can see her correspondence with Blackwell here, here, and here.

2. Not all women benefitted immediately or equally from the 19th Amendment. For example, many Black women continued to struggle against state-based voter suppression tactics common to the Jim Crow South whereas Asian American immigrants and Native American women alike faced barriers based on lack of US citizenship. A sobering reminder that for all the gains of the 19th Amendment, the fight for women’s rights continued long after its ratification in 1920. Check out historian Liz Novara’s recent blog post on Women’s Equality Day and how celebrations of the 19th Amendment came to be occasions for advocating for greater rights for women.

3. Did you know Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote (1869)? It was among a handful of states that allowed women to vote before the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The NAWSA collection includes an article and other material related to the origins of Wyoming women’s suffrage.

4. The Blackwell Family Papers introduced one volunteer to Ida Altman, the First Secretary of German’s Labor Organization’s Women’s Department. Alice Stone Blackwell helped translate one of Altman’s poems which is included in the collection. Altman’s travels throughout Germany and Europe propelled her to a life of organizing and advocating on behalf of women workers.

So what’s next for By the People and suffrage? In the near-term, we still need a few volunteers with language skills to help finish up transcriptions for pages in Tamil, Hindi, and Russian. By the People team members will be returning transcriptions from the NAWSA, Blackwell, and Dickinson papers to loc.gov to finish the lifecycle for existing suffrage content. And we’re already in talks with curators for what collections we might bring to By the People volunteers related to the long struggle for voting and civil rights. What Library collections would you like to transcribe that would illuminate the long history of suffrage? Email us at [email protected] and let us know!

4 Comments

  1. Helen Baer
    September 28, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Hello LC folks — thanks for keeping transcription projects at the forefront through these blog posts. I have an idea for a future post. It would be great to hear about the technical process of plugging the finished transcripts back into the loc.gov, so that they can be used alongside the materials. My apologies if you’ve already addressed this topic and I missed it.

  2. Abby Shelton
    September 30, 2022 at 9:55 am

    Hi Helen, Thanks for your suggestion! Our colleagues in the American Folklife Center published a short post on how to use the Lomax transcriptions, with a very short description of how the transcriptions get to loc.gov: //blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2022/05/etl-searching-the-lomax-family-papers-through-the-magic-of-crowdsourcing/. But we love your idea and will definitely be working on a more in-depth post about how we bring volunteer contributions back into our website. Thanks again!

  3. paula sims
    November 14, 2022 at 7:41 am

    Hello–
    How does one volunteer for transcription work. I live in Chicaho and with my 35+ year facinayiin with handwriting, esp early American Colonial and Ukrainian, how may I offer my services?

    Thank you

    Paula Sims

  4. Abby Shelton
    November 16, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Paula, You can find all of our transcription campaigns on //crowd.loc.gov/. Anyone can transcribe-though if you want to keep track of your contributions or review others’ work then you should sign up for a free user account. We try to offer campaigns that cover a wide range of topics, regions, and time periods so hopefully you’ll find something interesting to work on!

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