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Collection Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party

About this Collection

This collection includes 448 digitized photographs selected from approximately 2,650 print photographs in the Records of the National Woman's Party, a collection of more than 438,000 items, housed in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.  The images span from 1875 to 1938 but largely were created in the years between 1913 and 1922. The images depict the tactics used by the militant wing of the suffrage movement in the United States—including picketing, petitioning, pageants, parades and demonstrations, hunger strikes and imprisonment---as well as individual portraits of organization leaders and members. The photographs document the National Woman's Party's push for ratification of the 19th Amendment as well as its later efforts for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Founded in 1913 as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU), the National Woman's Party (NWP) introduced tactics and strategies to the American women's suffrage campaign that were inspired by its leaders' experiences with the militant wing of the British suffrage movement (see Historical Overview). The NWP sought to attract publicity, generate public interest, and pressure government officials to support women's suffrage in order to win passage of a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote. Its tactics included holding open-air demonstrations; distributing pamphlets; organizing elaborate parades and pageants; circulating suffrage petitions; mounting billboards on public highways; orchestrating nationwide automobile and train tours of suffrage speakers; picketing the White House and congressional office buildings; burning watch fires; conducting hunger strikes; and facing arrest, imprisonment, and force-feedings. After suffrage was achieved, the NWP launched a campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment and dedicated itself to achieving social, political, and economic equality for women throughout the world.

Because so many of the NWP's activities were designed to attract attention to its campaigns for suffrage and equal rights, there is a rich photographic archive within the NWP records, which was used by the organization for publicity purposes. In some cases, the NWP published the images in its weekly journals–The Suffragist (November 1913- January 1921) and Equal Rights (February 1923-November 1954)–or in its annual reports, postcards, and other illustrated publications. In other instances, the NWP distributed copies of the images across the country to various local newspapers to publicize the activities of area women, to promote an upcoming lecture by a visiting speaker, or to accompany a news story about a regional suffrage or post-suffrage event. In still other cases, the NWP received file copies of images taken by independent news services featured in contemporary news accounts of NWP protests, demonstrations, and other activities in Washington and nationwide. Since these images were part of a working photo morgue, they sometimes have crop markings or other notations on the front or verso and occasionally exhibit signs of repeated handling and use.

Throughout its history, the NWP frequently requested that its members submit photographs of themselves. The party also collected portraits of 19th-century suffrage pioneers, international feminists, and women active in related reform movements or profiled in an NWP publication. Collectively, these portraits form a significant part of the overall collection. Of the 2,650 images in the NWP records, approximately 60 percent–or 1,590 images, are formal or informal portraits, representing more than 1,015 individual women. A list of portraits (PDF) identifies the number of images per woman and the container numbers where they are located in the NWP records. The digitized portraits are hyperlinked.

NWP correspondence indicates that the organization frequently alerted the media or hired its own photographers to cover events and activities with the likely intention of distributing images to news agencies. The collection often contains multiple copies of the same photograph, each affixed with an identical caption, as if "ready" to be mailed out for distribution or publication. Caption information is recorded in the bibliographic records, but the captions themselves are not included in the digital images.

Also noted in the bibliographic records are citations to published versions of the images in The Suffragist and Equal Rights, and in two books published by NWP members shortly after ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920: Doris Stevens, Jailed For Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920) and Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921).