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Collection National American Woman Suffrage Association Records

About this Collection

The records of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) span the years from 1839 to 1961 but are most numerous for the period 1890 to 1930. The collection consists of approximately 26,700 items (52,078 images), most of which were digitized from 73 microfilm reels. These records reflect NAWSA's multifaceted history, including the activities of precursor organizations involved in the abolition and women's rights movements, state and federal campaigns for women's suffrage, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and international women's suffrage organizing.

The NAWSA was formed in 1890 by the merger of two organizations, both of which originated in 1869. After the Civil War, disagreements within the suffrage movement arose over supporting the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and supported a federal amendment for women's suffrage. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone and others, decided to work primarily through state legislatures and supported universal suffrage. The AWSA began publishing the Woman's Journal in 1870, which quickly became more prominent than NWSA's publication, The Revolution. The unification of the two organizations as NAWSA in 1890 occurred through the guidance of a younger generation of suffragists, including Alice Stone Blackwell and Harriot Stanton Blatch.

In the 1890s, NAWSA's influence reached across the country, contributing to suffrage victories in the western states, but many more state campaigns proved unsuccessful. In the early twentieth century, new leaders, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw, emerged and suffragists devised innovative tactics in the struggle for the right to vote, including suffrage parades and open air meetings. After organizing the first national parade for women's suffrage in 1913, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, previously a NAWSA committee, broke away under the leadership of Alice Paul and began using more militant tactics, such as picketing, eventually forming the National Woman's Party. At the end of 1916, Carrie Chapman Catt turned NAWSA in a new direction with her "Winning Plan" to fight for both state referenda and a federal amendment for women's suffrage. Whereas NAWSA had focused previously on state-level organizing, the emphasis on the federal amendment eventually prove more successful. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, NAWSA established the non-partisan League of Women Voters, but continued to operate in support of the international women's rights movement.

The majority of the NAWSA records relate to the organization's efforts to secure the franchise for women between 1890 and 1920, with a shift in focus to international women's movements in the 1930s.

A finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the NAWSA records is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

The collection is arranged in three series:

  • General Correspondence, 1839-1961 (Reels 1-24)
    The General Correspondence series consists of correspondence with individual members and supporters of the association, and with its officials. The series also incorporates correspondence with related organizations, and with the Board of Directors, Executive Committee, and other units of NAWSA. The collection features letters from many of the leaders in the American and British women's rights movements, including pioneer figures such as Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Abby Kelley Foster, Sarah Moore Grimké, Julia Ward Howe, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emma Willard. More recent leaders are represented by Carrie Chapman Catt, Helen H. Gardener, Ida Husted Harper, Mary Garrett Hay, Florence Kelley, Belle Case La Follette, E. Sylvia Pankhurst, Maud Wood Park, Mary Gray Peck, Jeannette Rankin, Rosika Schwimmer, and Anna Howard Shaw.
  • Subject File, 1851-1953 (Reels 24-58)
    The Subject File includes biographical information on some of the principal suffrage workers, a collection of anti-suffrage literature, progress reports from state and local suffrage organizations affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, records relating to the work of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later the National Woman's Party), and litigation proceedings resulting from Mrs. Frank Leslie's bequest of one million dollars to the organization. The subject file includes important material on the official organ of the association, the Woman's Journal, 1907-1949.
  • Miscellany, 1890-1950 (Reels 58-73)
    Among the printed items in the Miscellany series is a set of indexed scrapbooks prepared by Ida Porter Boyer which document activities in the woman's rights movement as reported in the nation's newspapers and periodicals during the years 1893-1912.