August 26, 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment, which states that the right to vote shall not be denied on account of sex, represented the culmination of a struggle that began in the 1830s and 1840s, engaged the energy and passion of at least three generations of American women, and resulted in the largest one-time ever increase in voters in this country’s history. The victory was incomplete, however, especially for African American women in the South, who found their right to vote stymied by the same Jim Crow laws used to disenfranchise African American men. For Black citizens it was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, not the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, or Nineteenth Amendments, that finally guaranteed the right to vote.
The women’s suffrage movement always had a deep sense of its own history, and in many ways suffragists were our first women’s historians. So perhaps it is not surprising that when the American National Biography appeared in 1999, it contained a fairly robust selection of entries of suffragists, especially at the national level. Why not use our biographies of leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Ida Wells-Barnett to brush up on your suffrage history?
Then you can turn to our August release to read the entries of 27 additional suffragists that were specifically commissioned to honor the centennial, with a second batch set to be released in the coming months. These suffrage profiles shift the focus away from the national leadership to the states and localities, providing a wider geographical sweep as well as documenting the contributions of rank-and-file activists. See what Grace Wilbur Trout was doing in Illinois, Ellen Clark Sargent in California, Susan Walker Fitzgerald in Massachusetts, Edna Fischel Gellhorn in Missouri, and Cora Smith Eaton King in Washington. They also represent our commitment to documenting the contributions of African American women to the suffrage movement. Women like Lethia Cousins Fleming, Hester Jeffrey, and Gertrude Bustill Mosell demonstrate how advocacy for the vote was always part of a larger agenda of improving conditions for the African American community at large.
For their help in bringing these suffrage stories to the ANB I want to thank the scholars and writers who agreed to do the entries, sometimes revisiting earlier scholarship but often starting from scratch in gathering biographical details. At the top of the list is Tom Dublin, the former co-director of the Women and Social Movements website and the driving force behind Alexander Street’s open access Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States. Tom generously shared lists and contacts, and even put in a good word for the ANB when I was trying to nail down a commitment. To Tom and all the scholars who contributed to this special release, my heartfelt thanks. I know it was done in the spirit of one of the suffrage movement’s favorite rallying cries: onward!
The American National Biography (ANB) is updated regularly throughout the year, giving you access to the most up-to-date and accurate information available. Full access to all biographies is available by subscription.
Discover a full list of entries added this year.