Voting and scrapbooks were close associates on both sides of the Atlantic: I’m sharing an article on British suffragists using scrapbooks in their fight for the vote, by Cherish Watson, in The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/ — a follow up to her earlier article, shared here, on the scrapbooks of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett.
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.
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).”
As we get closer to the November 3, 2020 election, I will frequently post items about voting from my research on old scrapbooks here on the Scrapbook History website. Scrapbook makers collected many items from the newspapers that were deeply significant to them about why people, especially women of all groups and Black people, fought for the right to vote, how they used their vote, how they fought voter suppression, and sometimes how they honored those who fought and voted. Their scrapbooks were tools in their struggles.
Thousands of Americans made scrapbooks in the 19th and early 20th centuries. People needed them to keep track of the news moving past. Speakers and politicians collected clippings on their public appearances. Writers collected clippings of their own writings and background material for future work. The scrapbooks that have survived are now mostly in archives, historical societies, and special collections. I looked at hundreds around the country as I researched Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. They are a rich trove of items themselves, but also of how their users thought about them.