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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

The Final Push

Through the combined efforts of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the National Woman's Party (NWP), and scores of state and local suffrage organizations, a final successful push toward suffrage was mounted in the 1910s. Key to this victory was NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt's secret “Winning Plan,” a well-executed, two pronged attack that called for the careful coordination of state work with a new lobbying effort in Washington for a federal amendment. Details about Catt's strategy may be found in the NAWSA records as well as in the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers (9,500 items; 1848-1950; bulk 1890-1920), which reflect her steadfast dedication to two major goals—the right of women to vote and world peace. Catt sought to achieve the latter by building on the ties she formed while president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance from 1904 to 1923.

Mary Church Terrell. Draft manuscript, "A Colored Woman in a White World". Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.9

Also active in the last stages of the suffrage campaign was Maud Wood Park (1871-1955), who became the first president of the League of Women Voters. Her collection (3,700 items; 1844-1979; bulk 1886-1951), especially her correspondence with her second husband, Robert F. Hunter, is a particularly rich source of information on the tactics, strategy, and ideology of the suffrage and early women's rights movement. Concerned with preserving the movement's history, Park corresponded with many of the women involved, collected information about them, and supported efforts to create collections of women's rights materials at both Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Library of Congress.

Other collections relating to the twentieth-century suffrage campaign include two that concern the national movement as well as aspects of the local campaign in the District of Columbia. As a member of the NWP, Anna Kelton Wiley (1877-1964) was arrested and jailed for picketing the White House in 1917. She served two terms as chairman of the party in the early 1930s and 1940s and edited its periodical Equal Rights for five years. Wiley was the consummate Washington, D.C., club woman, holding memberships in more than forty organizations, many of which are documented in her voluminous papers (110,000 items; 1798-1964; bulk 1925-60), as are her activities on behalf of women's rights, Indian rights, consumer protection, and improved child care.

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) cofounded the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and became its first president. Her papers (13,000 items; 1851-1962; bulk 1886-1954) are a valuable source of information on African American women's involvement in the campaigns for women's suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment. They reflect the key roles she played in the National Woman's Party, NAWSA, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. They document, too, her work as a member of the District of Columbia School Board (1895-1911), as an adviser to the Republican Party during the 1920s and 1930s, and as chairman in the 1940s of the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws, which challenged the legality of segregated restaurants and movie theaters in the nation's capital. Among Terrell's many correspondents were important black women leaders such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Addie W. Hunton. In 1940, Terrell published her autobiography A Colored Woman in a White World. Her papers include multiple drafts of this work and by examining her treatment of the same events in five different drafts, it is possible to glean something of her writing process. Related information may be found in the papers of Terrell's husband, Robert H. Terrell (2,750 items; 1870-1925; bulk 1884-1925).

Dozens of other manuscript collections also contain information relating to women's suffrage, including the papers of various presidents and members of Congress, some of which are mentioned later in this section. Other collections may be found by skimming relevant finding aids and by searching for the term “suffrage” on this site and for “women suffrage” in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.


  1. A graduate of Oberlin College and a Washington, D.C., educator and community activist, Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) devoted her entire life to speaking out against racial injustice and women's inequality. As the first African American woman to serve on the District of Columbia School Board and as cofounder of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell encountered and overcame numerous obstacles during her lifetime. In her 1919 diary (held in private hands), she wrote of her intention to pen an autobiography in which she would “be courageous and tell everything,” but the resulting 1940 publication, A Colored Woman in a White World, reflected the tendency of most public figures to be more circumspect in published form than in private correspondence and diaries. Nevertheless, the raw emotion of losing three children within her first five years of marriage is very much evident in this draft page from Terrell's book. Difficult pregnancies, death from childbirth, and the loss of young children were facts of life for many American women, but such afflictions were even more prevalent among the poor and disadvantaged. As Terrell suggests in this manuscript, she believed that her babies might have survived had she and her infant children received better medical care than was available in Washington's segregated hospital system. (Diary quoted from Dorothy Sterling's biographical essay on Terrell in Notable American Women: The Modern Period, ed. Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green [Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980], 680.) Back to text