That’s It, Folks!

At least, that’s it for the summer! I’m finished (officially) with my internship at the Evanston Women’s History Project, and it’s been an incredible learning experience. I’m sure I’m not done working with the Frances Willard Historical Association, though, it’s an incredible organization with some awesome people.

I spent the summer knee-deep in the Union Signal and working my way through convention reports, and I’m happy to say that the digital timeline I’ve been working on, The WCTU and the 19th Amendment, is now live, up and running! Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Other final products from this summer include a webpage that isn’t live yet, but will be part of the Frances Willard Historical Association’s “Resources” and a nice, fat research report that the EWHP can use to get an exhibit going for the anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020.

And I’m not quite done yet! I’ve submitted a proposal for a paper to the Southern Association of Women Historians, who are hosting a conference next June. This paper would continue to explore the work of Lenna Lowe Yost and the WCTU in West Virginia and in other Southern states as they worked for suffrage. More updates about that when I have them!

And now, it’s vacation time!

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Ahead of Her Time 

This past Thursday we spent the morning at Roseville Cemetery. The Daughters of the American Revolution were memorializing Frances Willard, with a bronze insignia on her gravestone. Willard had been one of the founding members of the Fort Dearborn chapter of the DAR, and they proudly claim her as one of their own. The ceremony involved an unveiling of Willard’s gravestone with the new insignia, readings of poems Willard liked, and of tributes to Willard written after her death. 

It was the tributes that got me thinking. Anna Gordon had collected them after Willard’s death for inclusion in her tributary biography of Willard, The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard. One tribute described Willard as “a woman for the twentieth century,” ahead of her time. Another called her “a womanly woman” despite her public career and activism. These tributes, both from Protestant ministers, were reminders to me of just how radical Willard and the WCTU could be. It’s easy to see the progress made towards the 19th Amendment through a teleological lens, all of the work marching inevitably towards women’s right to vote. It’s especially easy because as a woman and a feminist, I struggle to understand why anyone would object to women voting in the first place (although people still do; ask me about Bob later). It only makes sense to me to present this story as inevitable, because I want to believe that it was. But that’s not the way it was–and that’s bad historical practice, too. 

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Wibbly Wobbly Tiki-Toki

Part of my project, as this internship starts to wrap up, is creating a digital timeline of the WCTU and the fight for women’s suffrage. To do this, I’m using a website called Tiki-Toki. It’s a site that allows you to build scrolling timelines with multiple layers. So, you can layer different streams of events on top of each other to demonstrate how things are connected. This is working really well for me, because it allows me to layer what’s happening on the local level, in state and local WCTU chapters, on top of national WCTU policy, and then put that in context of other developments in the fight for women’s suffrage.

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Tiki Toki in progress! Not quite live and ready for visitors yet, but it will be soon! 

It’s still very much a work in progress, but I’ve found that it was essential to have all of the events I wanted on the timeline laid out beforehand. I’m a planner anyway, the sort who makes outlines in colored pen, and this timeline project is perfect for that! What’s become clear, as I lay this out, is that the WCTU on a national level was rather incrementalist about embracing suffrage. Frances Willard was committed to women’s suffrage, and labeled it essential to “home protection.” By this, she meant that a woman could protect her children and her home–be a better housewife–if she had the right to vote to influence the laws that affected her home and her children. This was a clever rhetorical technique; Willard could influence her more conservative constituents’ opinions about suffrage by linking it to protecting home and hearth.

The Tiki Toki platform has been relatively straightforward to work with; like any new platform, there was a bit of a learning curve, but that’s to be expected! What’s been the most frustrating is dealing with images. The free version of Tiki Toki doesn’t let you upload images to the site directly; you can only link to them using a direct link  from another website. Unfortunately, Flickr and Google Drive don’t provide the right kind of link. I was advised to use Photobucket, which was similar to Flickr, but Photobucket replaced all of my images with advertisements, which was not at all what I was hoping for. Luckily, I found another option–Wordpress! So I’ve been uploading my photos to WordPress or linking to photo files available from Wikimedia Commons, and that’s been working just fine! I’m not quite ready to go live with the timeline yet, but when I am, it’ll be here! Stay tuned!

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Ok, Now What? 

I’ve been doing all this research this summer, and now it’s time to figure out exactly what I’m going to do with it. Coming into the project, my boss had told me I was working towards developing an exhibit for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020. Now, barring any catastrophes, I’ll have finished my master’s degree by then. While it’s exciting to have something long-term to look forward to, it’s also important to have a short-term product. 

I’m interested in the digital humanities and in ways we can make these stories accessible to a broader public than those who might visit an exhibit in person. The Evanston Women’s History Project is a really small organization without a ton of resources, and I think digital platforms are hugely important for organizations like ours. They can help us extend the reach of our programs beyond just the local community. This story in particular is an important one to make available online, because the WCTU’s legacy is complicated. They’re remembered for Prohibition and its failure, and for their turn towards increasingly conservative positions on social issues in the twentieth century. As an organization, they’re struggling to maintain membership, and so it’s vastly important to tell their story with nuance, to help return focus to their legacy of social activism.  

After some consideration, my boss and I have decide that an online timeline would be the best way to express the story of the WCTU and suffrage and support the efforts towards that figure exhibit. It will serve as an immediate final project for this internship, as well as a tool that can be used as that exhibit is developed and as an accompanying online feature. In addition to the timeline, I’ll be writing up a research report, outlining my findings and indicating where I think there’s possibilities for more research. This timeline will definitely appear here on this blog when I’m done, so stay tuned! 

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Convention Minutes, Part 2

This week, I’m still digging through the minutes from the WCTU’s annual convention… but I’ve made it to the 1890s and 1900s! In the 1890s, the WCTU became more and more involved in work for women’s suffrage. Other women’s suffrage organizations began to recognize the WCTU’s involvement, and there are two instances that pop up in the 1890s that demonstrate the very different ways in which the WCTU interacted with other suffrage organizations.

In 1890, women’s suffrage was up for a referendum vote in South Dakota. Susan B. Anthony wrote to Frances Willard personally to ask her to mobilize WCTU women in South Dakota to campaign for the referendum. The WCTU at that point was already expert in running statewide campaigns, using speakers, distribution of literature, and massive petition drives to drum up support for their issues. Anthony recognized this, and recognized that the WCTU had a far more robust grassroots network than the NAWSA. The referendum in South Dakota failed, because of liquor interests rather than a lack of effort on the part of NAWSA or the WCTU.

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Letter from Susan B. Anthony to Frances Willard, March 21, 1890.

Nine years later, Carrie Chapman Catt, then president of the NAWSA, wrote to Lillian Stevens and the WCTU’s annual convention. Catt asked the WCTU to step back from suffrage work. She contended that while individual WCTU members were able to make great contributions, involvement of the WCTU as a whole was damaging to the women’s suffrage cause, because male voters associated the WCTU with Prohibition. Catt did not want the suffrage movement to become associated with Prohibition, for fear of losing support. Individuals, she wrote, could and should continue to participate, but institutional cooperation was unwelcome.

The WCTU responded to Catt’s request with disdain. Though Stevens was, in general, slightly more conservative than Willard had been, she was still committed to women’s suffrage, on the WCTU’s terms. The Executive Committee resolved that they would continue to work for women’s suffrage, and continue to do so on their own terms, embracing suffrage as a tool towards enacting and enforcing Prohibition. Fiercely committed to “social advancement”, the WCTU’s interactions with other suffrage associations simultaneously supported the fight for suffrage while reaffirming their commitment to their own values and priorities.

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Convention Minutes, Part 1

Having gone through the Union Signal for 1919 and 1920, the two years in which the 19th Amendment was voted on and ratified, I’m turning my attention to the minutes of the WCTU’s annual conventions. I’m hoping to see how their attitudes towards suffrage shifted between when they first endorsed it under the leadership of Frances Willard in 1881 and when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Willard took over the presidency of the WCTU in 1879, and her commitment from the beginning was to an agenda of social reform. She wanted the WCTU to be involved in everything from raising the age of consent to fighting human trafficking, prohibition to women’s right to vote. In 1881, the WCTU’s Plan of Work Committee formed the Committee on Franchise, later the Franchise Department, with Willard’s encouragement. The Franchise Department would, for the next forty years, fight for women’s right to vote.

However, not all White Ribboners supported the idea of women’s suffrage. Willard, in her address to the convention that year, framed the need for the vote as another tool to protect the home. This idea of “home protection” reappeared year after year, a rhetorical device and reaffirmation of the WCTU’s commitment to women’s public activity to protect their true sphere, the home and hearth. The Franchise Department submitted their first report in 1882. J. Ellen Foster, Mary Livermore, and Mary Leavitt wrote that New England and the South were generally “not ready” for suffrage work, while the Midwest and West had embraced it. Wyoming women already had the right to vote, and the Indiana WCTU had organized a franchise department in 1878, before Willard’s election as president and the formal endorsement of women’s right to vote by the national body.

This first report of the Franchise Department set the theme for the reports from the 1880s and 1890s. For the most part, the national Franchise Department was committed to supporting state franchise departments, but consistently reminded the convention that no state was required to have a franchise department if they did not agree with the work. This policy was in line with the WCTU’s general approach: the national convention laid out a platform of work and social issues, and state conventions could choose which of those issues they wanted to focus on. Local chapters could then choose from the state platforms, ensuring that no local chapter was forced to work for issues with which it disagreed. It’ll be interesting to follow this into the twentieth century, and to see where the organization goes after the death of Frances Willard in 1898.

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Frances Willard, champion of “Do Everything” reform and 2nd president of the WCTU.

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Lenna Lowe Yost Does Everything

Last week’s story was the beginning of my investigation into Lenna Lowe Yost, a dynamo from West Virginia who was instrumental in getting the 19th Amendment ratified in West Virginia. I didn’t nearly do her story justice; she’s an incredible woman. Yost was the Washington Correspondent for the WCTU in 1919 and 1920, and this is where I first encountered her. However, she’d been involved with the WCTU for far longer than that. Yost was president of the West Virginia WCTU from 1908 to 1918, and president of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association from 1916 to 1918. She was the first person to hold these positions concurrently (!) and, with her husband Ellis Yost, a state legislator, able to influence state legislation in West Virginia. She and her husband were major players in the 1912 fight for Prohibition in West Virginia, which went into effect in 1914, and also in the fight for women’s suffrage.

Yost was president of the WCTU and the ESA as West Virginia prepared for a referendum on women’s suffrage in 1916. She fought tirelessly for this referendum, mobilizing local WCTU chapters for grassroots activism and lobbying legislators. Unfortunately, the referendum was defeated, and Yost chose to step down from both positions. But, the defeat of the referendum in West Virginia was one of the factors that encouraged the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the WCTU to embrace the idea of a national amendment, as it was clear that the state-by-state fight was become more and more difficult and inefficient.

Yost served as Washington Correspondent and Legislative Affairs department chair for the WCTU from 1919 to 1930. In 1920, as the fight for the ratification of the 19th Amendment continued, she returned to West Virginia from Washington, D.C. Her lobbying skills were essential to the success of the vote; indeed, Governor John Jacob Cornwell specially requested that Yost return and encourage legislators to commit to voting for ratification. He wanted to ensure that he had enough support for ratification before he called a special session, and Lenna Lowe Yost was key to garnering that support. While Jesse Bloch’s dramatic dash across the country attracted national attention, it was Yost’s work, and the work of the women she mobilized to petition their legislators, that ensured the ratification of the 19th Amendment in West Virginia.

Yost continued to live an active life in politics. She represented the United States at several international conferences on the prohibition of alcohol, directed the Women’s Division of the national Republican Party from 1930 to 1934, and was the first woman on the West Virginia State Board of Education. She died in 1972 at the age of 94, after a lifetime of public service working for the empowerment of women.

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Lenna Lowe Yost, Courtesy of the West Virginia & Regional History Collection

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