The Suffrage Movement “Then and Now” Civics Education Toolkit

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts is proud to present their 100th Anniversary  “Then and Now” Toolkit on the suffrage movement with a special focus on the civics education lessons that can be learned from the movement. Our intention is to provide teachers with resources that can supplement their teaching of the suffrage movement content standards appearing in the American History portions of the History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.

“Then” focuses on the history of the suffrage movement in America, the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and the beginnings of the League of Women Voters (LWV).

“Now” deals with modern electoral issues and understanding the barriers to diversity, inclusion and equity in voting, as well as the Voting Rights Act, voter roll purges and voter identification issues. We offer the following essential questions to guide student learning of the suffrage movement and the civic lessons we can derive from it. Equity, diversity, and inclusion is an important lens through which we focus this study.

Then

  • What can be learned from the long history of women’s struggle to obtain the right to vote about the strategies used and the sacrifices made to attain the vote?
  • How was race a factor in the development of the women’s suffrage movement?
  • The League of Women Voters was formed as a non-partisan organization to make democracy work and educate voters.  What does it mean to be non-partisan and why would that be important for any organization that seeks to educate voters?

Now

  • What are the historic and current strategies of voter suppression that have been used to suppress the vote particularly targeted at African Americans, Native Americans, minorities and youth?
  • What measures need to be taken to protect citizens’ rights to vote and keep them safe from voter suppression efforts?
  • Why is civic engagement important to individuals, groups, and our democracy?
  • How would you increase voter turnout in local, state and federal elections, especially for youth?
  • How can we help youth to feel better prepared to vote?

Resources

Teaching Standards and Historical Timelines:

The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks has recently revamped the History and Social Science state standards to have an increased emphasis on Civics Education. The link to the state frameworks is here

The League of Women Voters national office has compiled an easy to use web page of League History, and also has begun the She is Me Campaign, to celebrate 100 years of League work through the inter-generational stories of our real League of Women Voters members. 

In addition, the state of Texas has created a “Be a Voter” Module, to help teach voting procedures to school children. The iCivics Project, based in Cambridge MA, also has educational resources to be used as part of the foundation of skills to be taught.

Another local resource, Suffrage100MA, has a comprehensive website with resources about suffragists, significant events in Massachusetts’ role in the fight for universal suffrage, as well as event listings and voter registration information.

HERB: Social History for Every Classroom has a great clearinghouse of teaching tools about the suffrage movement, including:  

  • Women’s Suffrage Timeline Cards
  • Petition from the Citizens of Massachusetts in Support of Women’s Suffrage
  • Analysis Worksheet: Petition from the Citizens of Massachusetts in Support of Women’s Suffrage
  • A Filipina Activist Appeals to the New England Woman’s Suffrage Association (1902)

Books:

There are many fascinating books about the suffrage movement and the women’s movement. The Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition of MA has compiled a comprehensive list of books about women and women’s suffrage. To search or filter this list use the tool in the box in the upper right labelled: Search Suffrage100MA’s books. 

A related Booklist was created using Amazon. Although not sorted for specific learning levels, it is a detailed round up of books regarding women’s suffrage and civil rights issues. 

Some standout books to consider reading with your civics classrooms:

Films:

Click here for a curated list of films about the suffrage movement.

Presenters/Speakers:

Re-enactors and Other Speakers

Judith Kalaora is a Boston area re-enactor who will perform at League events, schools, churches, etc. She has several characters, all of whom represent a woman or women who were pioneers in their fields.

Kathryn Woods recreates the life of famous abolitionist, feminist, and escaped slave Sojourner Truth.

Laura Harrington is an author and playwright who lives on the North Shore and has spoken at League events in the area. She has spoken about her dynamic musical comedy of politics, power and persuasion The Perfect 36, about the struggle to persuade 36 states to ratify the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote.

Judith Black, Story teller, has a program about Lucy Stone.

Displays:

Partner with the high school art department on a public art project about the League, suffrage, or women and their achievements and/or struggles. Display at the school or a public space, indoors or outdoors.

Field Trips—Events and Exhibits:

Be sure to check the websites well in advance, as most exhibits have a start and end date. Please also check with your local libraries and historical societies/museums to see if they have exhibits ongoing or planned.

Trip Ideas Based in Massachusetts

Other Local History Resources and Partner Events:

LWVMA’s 100th anniversary local League toolkit has a wealth of information around civics education activities around the state, and resources to use when creating lessons and units on this important topic.

Some examples from the 100th anniversary local League toolkit include:

  • LWV-Northampton initiated a civic education project with local schools in their fairly large League area. Download a flyer template (in word).
  • Suggest a suffrage parade re-enactment. Students research women’s suffrage parades, clothes, sashes, buttons, signs, banners, then parade around the school, stopping at classrooms to give a short description of historical significance.
  • Partner with the LWV chapter in your school’s town, and invite League members in to your classes to read an age-appropriate book about women’s suffrage.
  • “Making the World Better: The Struggle for Equality in 19th Century America” MassHumanities curriculum packets to teach about Massachusetts State House Women’s Leadership Project honorees and advocates for equal rights, Lucy Stone and Sarah Parker Remond.
  • Make teachers and students aware of the Internet African American History Challenge. “The Internet African American History Challenge© is an interactive quiz that helps you sharpen your knowledge of African American History. It’s an “open book” test. So if you’re not sure of an answer, you can check our reference material for help. Level I is the easiest and has 7 questions while levels II & III have 10 questions each and are a bit more challenging.”
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities hosts EDSITEment, a vast array of articles, information and programs, a goldmine of materials. Includes resources for lesson plans, activities for students plus extensive links to additional materials for educators  and the public. Some of the relevant topics:
    • “Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage” Grades 9-12, 4-5 class period
    • “Who Were the Foremothers of the Women’s Suffrage and Equality Movements?” Grades 6-12, 3-4 class periods
    • “Women’s Equality: Changing Attitudes and Beliefs” Grades 9-12, 1-2 class periods
    • “Women’s Suffrage: Why the West First?” Grades 6-12, 1-2 class periods

LWVMA encourages teachers to incorporate the suffrage story in their existing work around civics education. As educators increase their focus around these important topics, our 100th anniversary in 2020 becomes more and more relevant and timely.