By Jennifer Martinez Wormser ’95
Director and Sally Preston Swan Librarian for the Ella Strong Denison Library

Denison Library’s Women’s Suffrage and Equal Rights Collection documents the development of the suffrage movement both internationally and in the United States, particularly for the years 1901–1924, preceding and immediately following the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. In the collection, researchers will find correspondence, photographs, publications, and ephemera related to suffrage pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony, Alice Park, and Carrie Chapman Catt, as well as a substantial amount of material focused on the efforts of women to secure the vote in California in 1911. Some materials are from Great Britain, Canada, India, Japan, and Europe, providing a worldwide context for the suffrage movement and related issues concerning gender, labor, race, and politics, many of which continue to resonate today.

 

Ephemeral items and small artifacts in the collection, such as songbooks, buttons, and leaflets, often show a sense of humor as part of their rallying cry for the right to vote. One witty poem by S. E. Kiser on a small flyer printed by the California Equal Suffrage Collection, titled “Ma Can’t Vote,” elucidates the myriad ways in which the author’s mother is better educated, more capable, and smarter than her husband and many other men but cannot participate in the electoral process. The author laments, “She keeps track of legislation and is taxed on bonds and stocks, / but she never gets a look-in at the sacred ballot box.”   

“Ma Can’t Vote”

The handwritten, unpublished booklet “Songs of a Suffragette: A Survey of the Presidential Campaign of 1920” is bound with brown paper and string and features a series of humorous songs that take aim at various political figures and urge women to embrace their role in politics through voting to effect change. One piece ends with a rallying call to vote and includes a familiar nod to baseball to summon women to participate:

 

All womanhood should cry their blood!
Dear Sisters, all, it’s up to you,
Don’t waste a vote that can’t make good,
What e’er you do: Don’t stall. Play ball.

 

Complementing the Women’s Suffrage and Equal Rights Collection, Denison Library also has printed materials, such as this Spokeswoman newsletter, related to the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), initially introduced to Congress in 1923 but not approved by the United States House and Senate until the early 1970s. Second-wave feminism and the ERA movement welcomed a more inclusive range of supporters, and, like the suffragettes before them, these activists held rallies and marches to further the cause.