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Great roundtable today! Sign up asap!
This virtual event is free and open to the public. Please register at the link above, so we can send out zoom invitations to those who would like to attend.
Scrapbooks for the vote across the Atlantic! I’ve been delighted to learn more about how British suffragists, too, used scrapbooks to record their work and save their history. One remarkable collection in the British Library of 37 bulging hardback scrapbooks offers a personal history of suffrage activism created by Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936). This actor turned confectioner/businesswoman and activist public speaker saved plenty of newspaper clippings, but preserved significant memorabilia, too, like the key to the hotel room where her husband stayed when he picked her up from Holloway Prison, either from when she was detained for smashing the Daily Mail’s office windows or an earlier imprisonment.
Cherish Watton’s blog article highlights letters Arncliffe Sennett received about her speeches that she pasted down. Not surprising that she saved letters from movement leaders, but there’s one from her servant Bessie Punchard, who wrote, “Do you know you made a simply splendid speech, I was so proud of you,” and told her she would happily go to prison herself if it would help the cause. Arncliffe Sennett reciprocated Bessie Punchard’s regard, dedicating one of her scrapbook volumes to Bessie, “the only one true and trusted friend I have found…the star to which I have hitched by wagon of loneliness.”
Arncliffe Sennett’s scrapbooks reminds us that while historians may focus on the rifts between different suffrage factions, people inside a movement may not be so concerned with these divisions. Arncliffe Sennett saved membership cards and other materials that show she belonged – sometimes simultaneously – to two different wings of the suffrage movement, the British Library’s page about these scrapbooks explains.
This entry rounds out the Scrapbook History blog series on scrapbooks and voting. When I started the series in the fall, before the US election, I wanted to highlight how important the vote was to African Americans and women’s rights advocates who kept scrapbooks. African American men and women saved evidence of white supremacists trying to keep Black people from voting, and Black people worked hard and brought lawsuits to vote, saved items about their work and honored exemplary voters in their scrapbooks. Since when I post in this blog the items go to my Writing with Scissors Facebook page, I thought I could publicize the articles to present-day scrapbooking enthusiasts who might not realize that there is a real, long history of people being blocked from voting.
I tried to pay to use Facebook’s “boost post” feature to reach groups I wouldn’t know people in otherwise. But Facebook’s algorithms decided that the history of voter suppression and the history of women’s suffrage were politically partisan, and blocked me from publicizing the items, despite my attempts to reason with them. (One objection they or their bots raised was that Facebook users in other parts of the world might be offended by women’s suffrage.) Facebook also blocked me from tagging more than half a dozen teacher and professor friends who might have been interested in using the pieces in class. It was frustrating, but I will try to work out some way to re-engage the blog for the next election.
Please enjoy and share the posts here on how people used scrapbooks to save the history of the struggle for the vote.
What a pleasure to go back to my old notes on Mark Twain’s Self-Pasting Scrap-Book to explore how women’s rights activists like lecturing platform star Anna E. Dickinson, Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, and other women’s rights activists used it for their work. As I read Mark Twain’s review of Dickinson’s speech at Cooper Union, and paid closer attention to the dates, I realized that Twain was just a few weeks into his own long career as a public speaker when he wrote it. He was studying her to learn how to succeed as a speaker!
Anna Dickinson was an extraordinary and energetic writer, speaker, and aspiring actor, not afraid to attack her critics, and to bring a lawsuit after she was shut up in a mental institution. Many of her papers, including scrapbooks, are now digitized on the Library of Congress site.
African American suffragists like Alice Dunbar-Nelson fought for more than votes for women.
White suffragists often appealed to “fairness” in seeking the right to vote. But that wasn’t enough for many African American suffragists. When Alice Dunbar-Nelson campaigned for votes for women in 1915, she explained to Black men that Black women’s voting would strengthen the Black community.
Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar-Nelson was a writer, teacher, poet, playwright, accomplished public speaker, and an anti-lynching activist of enormous energy and vision. But her suffrage work is missing from white-centered women’s rights histories. The scrapbook she kept documenting her speaking tour for a Pennsylvania suffrage campaign in 1915, however, reveals her role in winning women the right to vote. Newspapers wrote down parts of her speeches, and although she did not save full copies of her talks, without the scrapbook record she created, these articles would have been lost, as most have been saved nowhere else.
She took a break from her position as a English teacher at all-Black Howard High
School in Wilmington, Delaware to participate in the suffrage campaign in fall 1915, working with the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s Speaker Bureau. But she wasn’t just any Bureau speaker bringing the (white) suffrage message into Black neighborhoods. Her speeches on what Black women’s votes could do for the Black community show she thought of suffrage more broadly. Her talks reached mixed-race, mixed gender, and all Black audiences. Of course only men were allowed to weigh in on whether women could ever cast a ballot, so she had to persuade men to support women’s right to vote.
Although white suffragists often spoke or wrote as though women were not working for wages, Alice Dunbar-Nelson explained repeatedly that Black women’s work outside the home benefited the Black community as a whole. She argued to a Black audience, “Our women have literally built up [our] race in domestic service, which keeps them out of their home all day long; that means that the majority of our women are out of their homes every day helping the men to accumulate [resources]. If we are good enough to help in all this, it looks as if we are good enough to cast a vote.” When anti-suffragists claimed that politics was too “dirty” for women, Dunbar-Nelson responded, “Politics is the only dirt we don’t get into at present.”
Like today’s Black Lives Matter activists who focus on housing inequities as well as
police violence, Alice Dunbar-Nelson spoke out on how winning the vote would make Black women more effective advocates for better housing. She argued that voters could address the needs of Black families coming north in the Great Migration, who lived in overcrowded ghetto housing. In one talk to a Black women’s group, she “denounced in emphatic terms the fact that colored families in many cities of this country were living in congested sections and that there was not ample room in their homes for the family,” her scrapbook clipping records. Suffrage was not just about the vote itself, but what African American women could change with the vote.
The only item in her scrapbook not directly related to the suffrage campaign concerns her testimony against the film The Birth of a Nation in a court hearing. The popular film showed African Americans as violent beasts that the KKK had to restrain by lynching. She was already an anti-lynching crusader and an early member of the NAACP. Pasting this item into her suffrage scrapbook, Dunbar-Nelson made clear that Black women’s vote and advocacy should be used to combat racism.
And so, when women finally won the vote, Dunbar-Nelson was more than ready for it. She organized Black women to cast their votes effectively and not be limited by party loyalty. She first worked arduously for Republicans, which was then the more progressive party. When white Republican politicians failed to support an anti-lynching measure, she switched her party affiliation to Democratic, and worked for Al Smith.
Black women have continued to be leaders in progressive, anti-racist politics, and now even run for Vice President.
You can read Alice Dunbar Nelson’s complete suffrage scrapbook, “”July 12 – November 3, 1915. Some Records, not all of `An Interesting Campaign'” online at the University of Delaware Special Collections.
I’ve written briefly about Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s suffrage scrapbook previously here. My longer article about her scrapbook, “Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson’s Suffrage Work: The View from Her Scrapbook,” is in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, special issue: Recovering Alice Dunbar-Nelson for the Twenty-First Century, Volume 33, No. 2, 2016. It’s better for Legacy if you access it from an academic library, but if you can’t, you can get it here.
“Strengthen and invigorate our souls!”
On Oct. 12, Yale’s Beineke library offers a webinar with Charles Warner, Jr. presenting
the scrapbooks that Rev. Amos Gerry Beman, an African American pastor and social activist in Connecticut, made between 1830 and 1858, now fully digitized.
Amos Berman followed the decades-long struggle for African American voting rights. I have only begun to dip into this trove, and have already seen one item where African Americans wrote passionately about the need for the right to vote. Although slavery had ended in New York in 1827, Black men, but not whites, were required to own $250 in property to vote. African Americans organized and demanded referenda on the issue. Black men got full voting rights only when the 15th amendment, which banned racial discrimination in access to voting, ended New York State’s discriminatory laws.
Amos Beman clipped articles about African Americans who organized against voting restrictions. One eloquent piece in the weekly Colored American pressed for continued agitation, and called for a meeting in August 1841. Signed by Henry Highland Garnet and others, it roused readers to keep up the struggle in the face of the NY state legislature’s failure to act in the previous session:
Brethren, be not discouraged; such disappointments should only act as a stimulus, to strengthen and invigorate our souls, and rouse us to a determination of persevering in the struggle by stronger and still more unanimous efforts, and by the talismanic influence of Agitation!
It was not just in the South that African Americans had to fight to vote. But Black people recognized the importance of having and using the vote. Scrapbooks like Rev. Amos Beman’s show us what a long and multifaceted battle it was.
One of the four volumes concerns Rev. Beman’s work with the Colored Men’s Convention, part of the decades-long Colored Conventions movement that a network of scholars, led by P. Gabrielle Foreman, have brought to light. The scrapbooks themselves are fully digitized.
African Americans in law and politics have known to keep a close eye on the courts, as the scrapbook of Warner Thornton McGuinn, an African American lawyer, shows. In an era when newspapers rarely published their indexes and libraries did not always save dailies, scrapbooks stored up evidence of politicians’ past activities and positions and were a tool African Americans in law and politics used to keep a close eye on the courts. McGuinn was an 1887 Yale Law School graduate who moved to Baltimore in 1891, and began his scrapbook at the turn of the century. His scrapbook tracks his law career and the public offices he held. He worked against a Maryland law mandating racial segregation in housing. He clipped items about Black life in Baltimore, such as the founding of a Negro theater company in 1916, and on issues in other cities, including an article on a textbook controversy in New Orleans – a white writer objected because it
assigned students to write an essay on Booker T. Washington. When newspapers wrote about him, he saved the article, such as when he gave the main oration at a local memorial gathering for Frederick Douglass in 1905.
McGuinn collected news items about the suppression of Black voting in Maryland. His clippings from the white press were ammunition against politicians who had supported any of the three early 20th-century bills aimed at stripping the vote from African Americans in Maryland. He could bring them out as evidence of a politician’s earlier actions. In a copy — very possibly a facsimile created to circulate — of his own typed 1915 letter to the Baltimore Sun, complaining of their endorsement of Robert Biggs for Chief Judge in Baltimore, which he pasted into his scrapbook, he refers to an article he’d saved from six years earlier. Biggs had supported the Straus Amendment, “WHICH AMENDMENT WAS DESIGNED TO TAKE FROM COLORED VOTERS IN THIS CITY
AND STATE THE RIGHT OF SUFFRAGE,” as is evident from a 1909 newspaper clipping from the Baltimore Sun. “IF MR. BIGGS, IN 1909, WAS IN FAVOR OF DISFRANCHISING US, WHAT RIGHT HAS HE NOW TO ASK OR EXPECT OUR SUPPORT?” McGuinn continues in all caps. He concludes with a plea for a nonpartisan judiciary, and support for his candidate, Morris Soper. It was important to stop the appointment of judges who opposed Black people voting.
Warner McGuinn connected Black and women’s disenfranchisement, and fought for women’s suffrage, speaking out for it and collecting pro-suffrage songs and poems in his scrapbook.
Like many other scrapbook makers, he glued his materials onto the pages of an old book. The book’s title is covered over, but columns of statistics peep out from behind his pasted down clippings. He did not use a Mark Twain self-pasting scrapbook, though Mark Twain fans remember Warner McGuinn because Twain helped pay for a portion of McGuinn’s time at Yale Law School. McGuinn was a law student and president of the Law School’s Kent Club, which hosted talks and debates on social and political questions. When the club invited Mark Twain to speak in 1885, McGuinn greatly impressed Twain when he showed him around the campus.
McGuinn was working his way through law school – first as a waiter, and then in a law
office — when Twain offered to pay for the final year and a half of his studies. Twain’s action has become part of the long history of exaggerating white benevolence. William Dean Howells says, by way of explaining that his friend was a “desouthernized Southerner” that he paid “the way of a negro student through Yale.” A handwritten note on McGuinn’s scrapbook in the Yale Library collection says it was made by “the black put threw Yale Law School by Mark Twain.” Twain’s largesse is thus exaggerated, and McGuinn’s status lowered.
But when McGuinn reached out to help others, he left a mark, and his decades of activism stretched farther into the future. He mentored the groundbreaking civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who established the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Justice Marshall continued McGuinn’s work of fighting voter suppression. One of its early cases established the right of Black voters in Texas to vote in Democratic primaries. Thurgood Marshall said Warner T. McGuinn should have been a judge himself.
Warner T. McGuinn’s scrapbooks are in the Yale Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection (MS 1258). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.
A Centenarian at the Polls.
A November 5, 1891 clipping in William Henry Dorsey’s scrapbook reports that John Gibson, a resident of the Philadelphia’s Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons, age 113 years, voted that week. “Mr. Gibson, who is known by the residents of the Home as “Father” Gibson, was taken to the poll in a carriage, and had to be lifted out to vote.”
William Henry Dorsey, the son of an escaped slave, was one of the most prolific scrapbook makers in the United States. He was born in 1837 in Philadelphia, where he made about 400 scrapbooks during the 1860s through about 1903, mostly about Black life and history, divided by subjects. In one small scrapbook, titled “Colored Centenarians,” he collected items beginning in the mid-1860s, about Black people who were over a hundred years old. John Gibson’s was the only achievement Dorsey commented on in the handwritten index he compiled for this scrapbook. Next to John Gibson’s name is the note “voter age 113.” He thought of it as an honor worth commemorating.
John Gibson appears in another article in the scrapbook, “Happily Over the Century Mark,” one of a set of patronizing interviews with elderly African Americans in the Home. There we learn that he was born free, though virtually enslaved as a child. He came from Maryland to Philadelphia in the early 1850s. Neither article mentions that the Pennsylvania Constitution had been amended in 1848, to say only white freemen could vote, so he would have been barred from voting until 1870, when the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution declared that the right to vote should not be denied based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
“Happily Over the Century Mark” gives John Gibson’s age as 119. If his age seemed flexible, longevity gave the weight of seriousness to Gibson’s dedication to voting and marked the importance of Black full citizenship.
Do you have more to tell about John Gibson? Please chime in!
(“Colored Centenarians” is Scrapbook No. 45 in Cheney University’s Dorsey Scrapbook Collection.)
(The intrepid researcher Reginald Pitts responded to my asking if anyone had more to tell about John Gibson by really digging in. He writes: “A little more info, if you will–this clipping would have appeared in the Philadelphia “Public Ledger”, the ancestor of the Philadelphia “Inquirer.” The neighboring Wilmington (Del.) “Delaware Gazette and State Journal” for November 12, 1891, page 6, reprints the article and cites the “Ledger” as its source. And old Father Gibson lived many more years at the “Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons” (also known as the “Stephen Smith Home”) at 4400 Belmont avenue (at Girard Avenue), finally being gathered to his ancestors at the ripe old age of 117 on February 18, 1895, according to his death certificate. His occupation was listed as “Gentleman,” which I thought was nice. He was buried at the old Olive Cemetery which was adjacent to the home; about ten years later, when Eden Cemetery was opened in the western suburbs, Father Gibson, along with every else at Olive, was reinterred out there, although his gravestone (if he had ever had one) was lost. Always happy to help!
And Reginald Pitts found him in the census: “in 1880–aged 105 and somewhat feeble, he’s living with his wife Hannah A. (a sprite of fifty-eight) in a home at 2922 Herman (now West Gordon) Street (in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philly) (1880 Federal Census for the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Supervisor’s District 111, Enumerator’s District 602, Sheet 493 (Page 25) Lines 44-45).”
A recent New York Times article on contemporary African American scrapbook makers reports on what happened when Tazhiana Gordon featured her pages on attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. She shows her pages on Instagram, where a scrapbooking community shares their work. But when she placed her activism and Blackness at the center of her work, some of her white followers dropped her.
The many African American scrapbook makers of the 19th and 20th century would have been right there with Tazhiana Gordon in documenting the BLM movement, and paying attention to responses to the police killing of a black man. Even those who saved memorabilia about their own lives – programs from concerts they attended, family achievements – also clipped and pasted newspaper items about lynchings, government collusion in lynchings, and the suppression of the Black vote. Their private lives were not separate from what was happening to the local and national Black community.
African Americans of the past have known how essential it was for them to archive their own activities. We would not know anything about Alice Dunbar Nelson’s work for women’s suffrage if she hadn’t kept a thorough scrapbook of her 1915 campaign work around Pennsylvania.
Nineteenth and twentieth century African American scrapbook makers might have been more puzzled to see people ornamenting the pages with purchased stickers, and by the online community that shares ideas for page layouts and designs. Their own sharing was within the Black community, to offer one another the histories they’d compiled. I wonder what William Henry Dorsey, son of an escaped slave, with his 400 scrapbooks spanning over 4 decades, or Shirley Graham DuBois and her mother, or Joseph W.H. Cathcart, a janitor, whose 150+ massive scrapbooks attracted reporters from the white press to write about him, as “the Great Scrap Book Maker,” would have thought of today’s Black scrapbook crafters? All (with the exception of L.S. Alexander Gumby, who loved frames and pockets) might have been puzzled by the attention to the visual aesthetics of scrapbook making. But they surely would have applauded their demands for recognition and paid work within a white controlled industry.
Exciting news – the Beineke Library at Yale has bought a huge collection of Frederick Douglass’s family’s scrapbooks from a private collector, Dr. Walter Evans, who has amassed an extraordinary collection of African American materials. I first heard about these last year when I was a fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. David Blight explained that he was launched on his Pulitzer-winning biography of Frederick Douglass when Dr. Evans showed him this collection, and David realized what a wealth of previously unexplored information these scrapbooks held. I look forward to exploring them, and hope they will also be digitized.
The scrapbook shown in New York Times article is pasted into an old ledger book — no surprise to anyone who has looked at 19th century scrapbooks and seen multiple types of reuse at work.
In the meantime, you can see two of Frederick Douglass’s own scrapbooks from 1890 and 1892, digitized by the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/mfd.52002/ and https://www.loc.gov/item/mfd.52003/ Like many 19th century scrapbooks, they were pasted into old government reports.
Historic house museums appeal to our desires to imagine ourselves into different lives, lived in different surroundings. It’s always complicated – in extreme cases, when plantation recreations invite us to enjoy the spoils of slaveholders, and ignore the slave quarters, for example.
But wandering through someone else’s house is intriguing. Nineteenth century children played with the desire to try out different homes in their house scrapbooks, where they created rooms and scenarios in them from catalog and magazine pictures.
On Sunday, March 29, 1 pm, you can visit a 19th century farmhouse and hear about historic scrapbooks. And if you have old scrapbooks in your family, bring them. I’ll bring some from my collection, too – and of course, lots of great pictures of how our ancestors used their newspaper clipping scrapbooks to save women’s history, black history, and more.
I’m looking forward to the first of my New Jersey Council for the Humanities scrapbook presentations, Sunday, March 29, 1 pm, at Hamilton House, Clifton, NJ 971 Valley Road, Clifton, NJ 07013.