Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited

By Jean H. Baker | Go to book overview
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Anne Firor Scott

Like the movement itself, the written history of woman suffrage has evolved over time. The earliest phase was inaugurated by two suffragists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, later joined by Matilda Joslyn Gage and even later by Ida Husted Harper, who gathered documents, memories, clippings, and miscellaneous reports from various parts of the country to create the massive six-volume History of Woman Suffrage. Along the way, and after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, various participants wrote their own stories—or saw them written. 1 Suffragists created vast quantities of source material, but for a long time academic historians (most of whom were men) paid no attention to the long process that led to the enfranchisement of half the adult population.

Sometime in the late 1930s, a young southern woman, who had a master's degree in history, was teaching in a small college in Alabama. Browsing in the library she came across the History and suddenly realized that her historical training to that point had never included women at all. She was inspired to take up the subject. In 1941, with many men off to war, she was admitted to the graduate program at Vanderbilt—she thought she might have been the first woman in that program. 2 Once there, Elizabeth Taylor defied the scorn of faculty and classmates alike to write her dissertation on the suffrage movement in Tennessee. From this beginning, she moved on methodically to examine the movement as it had developed in a number of southern states. Taylor was a careful scholar and a true pioneer, but her purpose was to find out as much as possible about what happened. Speculating or searching for causes or analyzing complex relationships was not her bent. 3


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