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New Database Shows That Black Women Activists Were Central to Passage of the 19th Amendment

By Thomas Dublin
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
State University of New York at Binghamton

Thomas Dublin is editor of the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States.

August 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affirmed: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  This milestone was the culmination of 72 years of struggle that began at a woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848.

To honor this anniversary, I’ve worked since 2014 with history scholars and volunteers to organize, research and edit the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States, and is now working with ProQuest to launch it as an open-access resource.  

Black Women Activists were Central to the Suffrage Movement

More than 400 of these new biographical sketches depict the lives of Black women suffragists.  Their voting rights activism can now be studied to show their impact in their communities and nationally from the 1830s through the 1920s. Black women’s suffrage activism was part of campaigns for citizenship rights more broadly – for example, many affiliated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after its founding in 1910.  

The 19th Amendment marked a milestone in the Black Freedom Movement, which went on to achieve the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and continues today with Black Lives Matter.   The new database will permit new research on connections between the activism of Black women before 1930 with later generations of activism.     

Thousands of Biographical Sketches of Women Suffrage Advocates

The database offers 3,700 biographical sketches, about 3,500 of which – not previously published – are based on primary sources, including vital records, U.S. censuses, newspaper articles and organizational records. These sources will permit scholars to explore the history of women’s social activism and voting rights more deeply and broadly than has previously been possible.  

The project reaches beyond well-known figures to depict the lives of thousands of grassroots local and state leaders, tracing the work of suffragists in every corner of the nation and illuminating the lives of white and Black suffragists. At a time when voting rights remain contested in the United States, this resource gives us access to the history of the greatest single extension of voting rights in the nation’s history.  

The database currently includes more than 2,600 biographical sketches. We expect it to be completed in December 2021.

Access the database to learn more.

Looking for more primary sources on Women’s Suffrage? Explore the following ProQuest collections from History Vault:


13 Aug 2020

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