By YVONNE FRENCH
In an informal "Treasure-Talk" March 17 in the Jefferson Building's "American Treasures" exhibition hall, Rosemary Fry Plakas, the American history specialist in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, discussed the Library's collection of "suffrage scrapbooks."
The ones she mentioned were kept by Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller. These scrapbooks document the activities of the Political Equality Club of Geneva, N.Y., which the Millers founded in 1897, as well as efforts at the state, national and international levels to win the vote for women.
Ms. Plakas's talk, one of a series of Treasure-Talks on important items on display in the "American Treasures" exhibition, coincidentally fell on the anniversary of the Arizona legislature's passage of an equal suffrage bill in 1903. One scrapbook has a copy of the telegram Elizabeth Miller and Julia Ward Howe's daughter, Florence Hall, sent to Arizona Gov. Brodie, urging him to sign the bill. Ms. Plakas's talk also was given during the Library's celebration of Women's History Month.
Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822-1911) was the daughter of the abolitionist and New York Congressman Gerrit Smith. Through her experiences at home, which was a station on the underground railroad, and her education in Quaker schools in Philadelphia, Miller learned to work for improving the human condition.
She married banker Charles Dudley Miller in 1843 and as a young mother in 1851 she created the bloomer costume to safely navigate stairs while holding a baby in one arm and a lighted lamp in the other. This reform dress, featuring a short skirt over Turkish trousers, was soon adopted by Miller's cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton and was popularized by Amelia Bloomer, editor of The Lily. To encourage women to use their talents to raise money, Miller made and sold marmalade and published a cookbook, using the proceeds to make educational loans to women.
Anne Fitzhugh Miller was born in 1856 and educated at home. As a teenager she founded a summer camp to bring men, women and young people together to discuss philosophy, religion and literature. She was active in many charities, organized the local choral society, served as a founding trustee of William Smith College and, as president of the Geneva Political Equality Club (GPEC), actively recruited men as well as women.
Together, the Millers compiled seven scrapbooks dating from 1897 to 1911. Within one is tucked a gold satin "Votes for Women" sash worn at a parade in New York City. The thick scrapbooks also contain programs from suffrage events, manuscript letters from Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe and National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) President Anna Shaw, photographs, ribbons, buttons and numerous newspaper clippings.
From the first scrapbook, Ms. Plakas showed a program from the New York State Woman Suffrage Convention held in Geneva, N.Y., on Nov. 3-5, 1897. Susan B. Anthony and Alice Stone Blackwell spoke at this convention, hosted by the Millers. An editorial about the convention urged suffrage leaders to focus their efforts on winning over "indifferent" and "objecting" women to their camp rather than worrying about "obstinate" men.
The Millers closely followed the activities of antisuffragists and attended their meetings. At one, the "antis" read a Nov. 10, 1908, letter from President Theodore Roosevelt in which he echoed the editorial's exhortation. Anne Fitzhugh Miller subsequently asked Roosevelt for a stronger statement supporting suffrage. In her draft letter to Roosevelt, currently in the "American Treasures" exhibition, she chides, "What I ask would require about half a minute of your time, & would be a real service to half your people – to all of them, I believe."
The Millers hosted visits of the British suffragist leaders Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst and adopted their colors: green, white and violet, the initial letters of which are the same as for "Give Women Votes." The color scheme is echoed throughout the scrapbooks and even made its way into the gardening and sartorial choices of the Millers. After a winter filled with speakers, study groups and youth groups, the concluding event in the GPEC year always was an elegant fund-raising piazza party at the Millers in May, when the wisteria bloomed in clusters of green, white and violet over their wide verandas. And Anne Miller always wore a violet gown with a white sash at the suffrage parades.
In March 1912 she also planned to carry a green parrot that she had coached to "screech" suffrage slogans. However, she died unexpectedly in a Boston hotel a few weeks before the parade at only 56.
Although suffrage was a primary passion of the Millers, the scrapbooks show how "these kindred spirits expanded their horizons, always striving to make a difference in the world from a human standpoint, not solely based on gender," concluded Ms. Plakas.
These scrapbooks document milestones of the suffrage movement but also give a glimpse into the lives of two women who helped to move it along its way. They are part of the NAWSA Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, which was given to the Library in 1938 by NAWSA's last president, Carrie Chapman Catt.
Similar highlight tours, or "Treasure-Talks," of noteworthy objects on display in the exhibition are conducted by curators from the Library's custodial divisions. The Treasure-Talks are held at noon most Wednesdays in the Treasures Gallery. For information on the talks, visit the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/exhibits/ex-talks.html.
Ms. French is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.