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[Detail] Suffragettes procession after release from prison.

Strategies for Achieving Change

Suffragists used a wide array of approaches to gain rights for women. They wrote letters to public officials. They held protest marches. They circulated petitions. They testified before public bodies. They worked to change the hearts and minds of other Americans, both male and female, by giving speeches, circulating handbills, and appearing at state fairs. They worked at the national, state, and local levels to achieve change.

Documents in the collection provide evidence that many people critiqued the strategies of the suffragists and provided advice about the tactics they should use. In 1907, Anne Fitzhugh Miller gave a speech at the New York State Woman Suffrage Association meeting justifying the emphasis placed on legislative work.

  • What paradox did Miller point out with respect to asking the legislature to address women’s issues? At what other points in U.S. history have similar paradoxes occurred?
  • Why did Miller think working with the legislature was worthwhile despite the failure to pass legislation? Do you think her argument is convincing? Why or why not?

Admiral F. E. Chadwick wrote to his cousin Anne Fitzhugh Miller and aunt Elizabeth Smith Miller encouraging them to work to win the right of women to vote in municipal elections in New York rather than attempting to secure full franchise, saying  “Let the other lie fallow awhile and insist upon that which is so clear a right that it cannot be denied if you demand it…”

  • Why did Admiral Chadwick argue that seeking the vote at the local level was the best course to follow?
  • What evidence did he use from the English suffrage movement to support his position?
  • What logic was there in seeking a limited right to vote over full suffrage?

The women’s movement in New York worked on both fronts—to secure municipal suffrage and to continue to push for full voting rights.  On Election Day, November 3, 1908, the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women passed out suffrage literature to men entering polling places calling for a reform in election laws.  The Equality League also held mock elections in which women voted.  Organizers of the Election Day event included Carrie Chapman Catt and Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The Harlem Equal Rights League participated in mock elections and called upon women to vote.

“Come and vote at your own polls.  Let’s break the law that is unjust.  Mrs. Susan B. Anthony broke the law when she tried to vote, and the women have been blessed ever since.”

From “Women Who Want the Ballot Give Their Reasons; page 3”

  • What was the purpose of holding mock elections?
  • Why did the Harlem Equal Rights League appeal to women to break the law? Do you think that breaking the law in such circumstances is justified? Why or why not?
  • In 1873, Elizabeth Smith Miller’s father sent Susan B. Anthony $100 to pay her fine for attempting to vote. In 1903, his granddaughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, read a letter Gerrit Smith wrote to Susan B. Anthony in 1873. Read the letter. Why did Gerrit Smith call Anthony’s case a “wrongful use of the constitution”? Do you agree with his reasoning?

Browse the collection, looking for evidence of a range of strategies used to achieve women’s suffrage. Create a poster that highlights these strategies.