The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia, published by The History Press, is now available in the Virginia Shop. 

The story of the suffrage movement in Virginia is not well known, and generally described as a failure since the General Assembly refused to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920. However, the decade-long campaign by the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and the Virginia branch of the National Woman’s Party was not in vain. Library staff members Brent Tarter, Marianne E. Julienne, and Barbara C. Batson explain why in The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia.

The Library of Virginia holds the records of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and the secretary’s minute book of the Virginia branch of the National Woman’s Party. These records, along with collections at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Library of Congress, make it possible to revise the historical narrative and to document the achievements of suffragists in Virginia.

Members of both the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and the Virginia branch of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later the National Woman’s Party) regularly staffed booths and local and state fairs, such as this one in 1916. Image courtesy of Sophie Meredith Sides Cowan.

Virginia suffragists were a remarkable group of talented and dedicated women who have been largely forgotten and rarely appear in history books. They sought the ballot for a variety of reasons, but agreed with Lucy Randolph Mason‘s assertion that “there is no reason why women should not have the identical right of expression as men.” Virginia suffragists came from varied backgrounds in different regions of the state, including labor activist Lillie Barbour, public health nurses Agnes D. Randolph and Sarah Harvie Wormeley, social reformers Janie Porter Barrett and Josephine Norcom, and businesswoman Ellen G. Kidd. They marched in parades, rallied at the Virginia State Capitol, spoke to crowds on street corners, distributed literature, staffed booths at state and county fairs, lobbied legislators and congressmen, picketed the White House, and, in a few instances, were even jailed for their efforts. At the centennial of the 19th Amendment, The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia recognizes their important contributions to Virginia. 

Virginia suffragists traveled the state to speak about votes for women at public meetings, such as this event advertised in 1916 near Norfolk. Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Records, Acc. 22002, Library of Virginia.

Join us at the Library on Thursday, March 12, as we recognize the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment with the launch of The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia. Costumed interpreters from Maymont will kick off the event with a suffrage rally before leading us into the Lecture Hall for a conversation with the authors. A reception is at 5:30 PM, program at 6:00 PM, and book signing at 7:00 PM. For more information, contact Emma Ito at emma.ito@lva.virginia.gov or 804.692.3726.

The Library’s exhibition commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment, We Demand: Women’s Suffrage in Virginia, is on view at the Library of Virginia through 5 December 2020, Monday through Saturday, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. 

A traveling exhibition will be on view at local libraries and historical societies around the state beginning in March 2020. See the schedule here.

This exhibition is a project of the Task Force to Commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote.

Despite ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, many people in the United States were denied the right to vote because of ethnicity, age, or other factors. Unfinished Business explores the continuing struggle to provide access to the vote, the most powerful tool of the people’s voice. Come visit the 2nd Floor of the Library of Virginia to see what work remains to be done.

 Brent Tarter, Mari Julienne, Barbara Batson, authors of The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia.

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