Talking Scrapbooks April 21: Breslauer Lecture – I’m blushing!

African American attorney Warner McGuinn’s scrapbook included this1911 item on women’s suffrage.

I’ve been finding some great new material for my talk on African American and Women’s Rights scrapbooks for the Breslauer Lecture at UCLA, Thursday April 21, 6 pm ET/3 pm PST.  I’d originally hoped to go to LA to give the talk, but their lectures all went online, so now everyone can come! The incomparable scholar Johanna Drucker who runs the program invited me. I am so interested to meet her students! Scrapbooks and voting will be a particular focus.

Read the full notice to see why I’m blushing:

https://seis.ucla.edu/news/ellen-gruber-garvey-to-deliver-annual-breslauer-lecture

Flyer for African American women’s suffrage rally. Dunbar-Nelson’s friend Mary Church Terrell was also on the speaking circuit.

British Suffragists Used Scrapbooks

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.

https://theconversation.com/the-radical-history-of-scrapbooks-and-why-activists-still-use-them-today-172581

Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s Suffrage Scrapbook Showcased at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Suffrage Exhibit

At the Free Library of Philadelphia, I visited an excellent women’s suffrage exhibit, which included recent scholarship on African American involvement in the suffrage movement. I spotted this exhibit case on the African American writer Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s suffrage work –known through her scrapbook.

There’s a larger online exhibit on Alice Dunbar-Nelson which picks up on some of her other scrapbooks, too, but omits the suffrage work. It’s hosted by the Rosenbach Library:  The Authorship and Activism of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. It was organized by Jesse Erickson and his University of Delaware students, using the Alice Dunbar-Nelson materials in the UDel archives. Impressive work!

Huge British Suffrage Scrapbook collection

Membership card, Women’s Social and Political Union

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.

“Politics is the only dirt we don’t get into at present”: The African American Women’s Suffrage Struggle and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s Scrapbook

 

African American suffragists like Alice Dunbar-Nelson fought for more than votes for women.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Photo of Alice Dunbar-Nelson from her scrapbook cover

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

Flyer for African American women’s suffrage rally. Dunbar-Nelson’s friend Mary Church Terrell was also on the speaking circuit.

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.

The map was classic suffrage swag, showing the growth of women’s right to vote. Like many scrapbook makers, Dunbar-Nelson reused an old book or ledger. Hers was a household accounts book, seemingly never used. When scrapbook makers pasted over other books, they demonstrated that they valued one text over the other: in this case, suffrage self-documentation (and the housekeeping of the community) over close attention to individual housekeeping.

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

Clipping about Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s talk to a Black women’s suffrage organization.

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.

African American suffrage advocate and abolitionist minister’s scrapbook in free online talk

“Strengthen and invigorate our souls!”

On Oct. 12, Yale’s Beineke library offers a webinar with Charles Warner, Jr. presenting

Rev. Amos Beman

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.

Sign up for the webinar here.

March 29 2020 scrapbook talk in Clifton, NJ

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.

Scrapbook House, Strong Museum collection

Schoolroom in scrapbook house, Strong Museum collection

Scrapbook house parlor, including black servant, Strong Museum collection

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.

https://www.hamiltonhousemuseum.org/events-1

Hey, New Jersey! Want to Hear about Scrapbooks?

Whenever I give talks about scrapbooks in public libraries and historical societies, people walk in thinking scrapbooks are trivial, and leave astonished at what a rich history they speak for — that so many people in the 19th century made them as “unwritten histories,” and they were our ancestors way of coping with too much information. I’m delighted that the New Jersey Council for the Humanities has included my Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks presentation in their great catalog of Public Scholars events. Nonprofit organizations in NJ can sign up to book the talk here.

I love adding local material and inviting people to look again at scrapbooks in their families and communities. NJ author and editor Jeannette Leonard Gilder kept scrapbooks and wrote about her NJ life in her memoir, The Tom-Boy at Work. Isn’t it time for your historical society to bring out its scrapbooks?

Eligible groups include libraries, historical societies, schools, universities and more. My talks are both women’s suffrage related, so qualify for organizations to go over the usual NJ Council on the Humanities limit of two talks/year. (Jeannette Gilder was actually an anti-suffragist. Yikes!)

From The Tom-Boy at Work

The full catalog of speakers is here.

Speaking at Oberlin March 14 – and a note on an advantage of 19th century media

I’m looking forward to jumping into Oberlin’s special collections, since their alumnae/i

Mary Church Terrell, Oberlin alumna and scrapbook maker

were the leading lights of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. They may have inherited the remains of the newspapers that Angelina and Sarah Grimke and Theodore Weld used in writing American Slavery As It Is  — an extraordinary use of Southern newspapers to argue against slavery. I’ll be speaking on Hidden Histories: African American and Women’s Rights Scrapbooks on Thursday afternoon, March 13. And I’m looking forward to a faculty workshop about archives on Friday, where I hope we’ll have a chance to discuss Elizabeth Alexander’s extraordinary essay, “My Grandmother’s Hair,” from her collection Power and Possibility: Essays, Reviews, and Interviews. It engages the intimacy and violence of the archive.

So what was an advantage did 19th century media had over ours? Their users didn’t have to worry about lost passwords. I finally made my way back to this blog! Sorry for not posting here more often recently.

I spoke at the Mexico City’s immense Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), in the Seminario de Bibliología, last month and heard about some interesting filmmakers’ scrapbooks there from book history scholars who hadn’t thought about scrapbooks. I also learned that Spanish has a special word for a library of periodicals: hemeroteca.

I’ll be digging in the archives on fellowship at Yale University all through April (on a nonscrapbook project) but hope to post more about related findings.

speaking June 29, Garrison NY – Hidden Life of Suffrage Scrapbooks

Last minute announcement – Humanities NY and the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison, NY have asked me to fill in tonight, June 29, 6:30 in the library’s suffrage series. Come hear my talk Scrapbooks and the Hidden Life of Suffrage:

Anti-suffragists’ scrapbooks reveal some of their tricks.

How did suffragists manage all the different arguments and strands of information to create a powerful and effective movement that spanned decades? They used scrapbooks: a form of distributed, decentralized information storage and history writing. In their scrapbooks, suffragists collected the history of their movement, strategized about public speaking, and explained their work to their families. Scrapbooks played a key role in transmitting tactics and stories. Susan B. Anthony fought to place her 13 volume scrapbook in the Library of Congress. Alice Dunbar Nelson clipping collection reveal her shaping her specifically African American vision of what women’s suffrage would do for the black community. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s scrapbook became a multi-generation collaboration. Lillie Devereux Blake used her clippings in her speeches against domestic violence, and taught her readers how to use scrapbooks.
In the 1910s, as the suffrage movement sped toward ratification, it became increasingly professionalized and ran its own clipping services. Scrapbooks supported its growing public relations campaigns. Anti-suffragists used the same materials, though the scrapbook of a dedicated anti-suffragist PR woman shows her busy inventing facts to get her stories noticed.
These scrapbooks open a window into the lives of the thousands of ordinary women who became suffragists. They let us see how these earlier generations of campaigners and supporters used the press, while they reveal an intimate side of well known suffragists.