Friday, March 8, 2013

March is Women's History Month

The month of March is recognized annually as “Women’s History Month.” At the Tennessee State Library and Archives, women’s papers — diaries, journals, and letters — comprise a significant part of our collections. Here one can find a myriad of documents relevant to Women’s Studies at the local, state and national level: the Civil War, slavery, suffrage, journalism, politics, world wars, and social life are well represented in the holdings.

In 1981, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution establishing National Women’s History Week. The week was chosen to coincide with the annual International Women’s Day, March 8. In 1987, Congress expanded the week to a month; it has issued a resolution every year since then proclaiming March to be Women’s History Month. While recognition of “Women’s History Month” is a fairly recent phenomenon, important historical contributions made by women have been chronicled for many years.

One significant collection among our many holdings chronicling women’s history is the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers. Carrie Chapman Catt was a field organizer with Susan B. Anthony, and founded the League of Women Voters. Catt’s leadership was a key factor in Tennessee becoming “The Perfect 36,” the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The Catt Papers represents TSLA’s principal collection of pro-suffrage materials. They contain correspondence (especially telegrams) from women’s clubs and national figures, newspaper clippings, and a major selection of political cartoons. Students of women’s history will find these papers essential for their studies.

Votes for Women, no date, Carrie Chapman Catt Photographs. Reproduction of image from the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, PA. Used by permission.

Providing balance to the Catt Papers are the Josephine A. Pearson Papers. Miss Pearson, a Tennessee native, lobbied vigorously against the amendment that would give American women the right to vote. Miss Pearson’s leadership was critical to the cause, and the Tennessee General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment by only one vote. For the anti-suffrage point of view these papers are invaluable.

Women’s suffrage was not the only national movement in which women played a significant role. Women were heavily involved in the Temperance Movement and Prohibition in the late-19th and early 20th century. At first, the women’s suffrage and Prohibition movements attracted many of the same people, though by the 1910s they had split over philosophical outlooks. This image of Martin College students rallying in Pulaski, Tennessee from TSLA’s Looking Back At Tennessee Collection is a perfect visual illustration of this combination of protest movements. 

Boys, Decide between us and booze, ca. 1910, Looking Back At Tennessee Collection.

We hope you’ll take this opportunity to visit TSLA’s Public Services Resource Guide #07, “Women’s Studies at the Tennessee State Library and Archives,” on our website for a complete list of collections relevant to this subject. You can also learn more by visiting TSLA’s online exhibit, “’Remember the Ladies!’: Women Struggle for an Equal Voice,” which will provide you with a better understanding of Tennessee’s significant role during the campaign to ratify the 19th Amendment. Also, look for news about an upcoming exhibit at TSLA about Prohibition and the Temperance Movement in the coming weeks.

These are just a few samples from the collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives that describe the important role that women have had in our state’s history. We encourage you to visit us in person or online to learn more, and stay in touch with us through our Facebook, blog, and Flickr sites for more information and updates.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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