Women’s Suffrage and Activism Collections in the Ohio History Connection Archives & Library

Women’s Suffrage and Activism Collections in the Ohio History Connection Archives & Library 

By Lisa Wood 

When researching and writing the traveling and digital exhibit Ohio Women Vote: 100 Years of Change  to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, our curators extensively utilized the holdings of the Ohio History Connection Archives & Library  A previous collecting initiative by Archives & Library staff in the 1970s sought out the personal papers of Ohio suffragists, as well as publications and records from women’s political and professional organizations. This material, in conjunction with women’s published writing, allowed curators to tell the story of women’s suffrage and activism in the activists’ own words.

Women’s Published Writing

Writing was a tool for women’s activism, but also a medium to express their personal truths. Powerful testimonials of suffragists lived experiences are found in the memoirs and published letters in the Archives & Library.  

Oberlin graduate, abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone’s letters in Friends and Sisters: Letters between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846-93 (call number B St71f 1987) brought to the life the difficulty of being among the first women to attend college and embark upon a career as a public speaker in the 1840s. Antoinette was a fellow student and Lucy’s best friend at Oberlin College; the two eventually became sisters-in-law. Ohio suffrage leader Harriet Taylor Upton of Warren, Ohio, peppered her memoir of leading suffrage campaigns in the 1910s, Random Recollections (call number B Up83 1955), with a great deal of humor.  While in her autobiography To Do Justly (call number B AL54), Florence Ellinwood Allen from Cleveland, Ohio, told stories about the challenge of working in the male dominated field of law that may still resonate with female lawyers and judges today.

Harriet Taylor Upton speaking at the Ohio Statehouse.

African American leader Mary Church Terrell, who was educated in Yellow Springs, Ohio and at Oberlin College, clearly explained the dual burdens of sexism and racial discrimination in her book A Colored Woman in a White World (call number B T277 1986). Hallie Q. Brown, who was a professor at historically black Wilberforce College in Wilberforce, Ohio, had stirring words for younger generations of women in Our Women, Past Present and Future (call number PA Box 358 28). In Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (call number 920.073 B813h) Brown published a late in life interview with the renowned abolitionist and suffragist lecturer Sojourner Truth.

Hallie Q. Brown with her nieces.
National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Hallie Q. Brown Collection, NAM MSS 5
Personal Papers

Personal papers shed light on numerous aspects of women’s lives. In the papers of Viola D. Romans, collection number MSS 270, we find speeches she gave advocating for women’s right to vote and banning the sale of alcohol, campaign ephemera from her successful run to represent Franklin County in the Ohio legislature and even a scrapbook with clippings about the British royal family. Sometimes it is necessary to look for women’s papers in larger collections. Speeches and correspondence of journalist Georgia Hopley, a temperance and suffrage activist from Bucyrus, Ohio, who became the first female prohibition agent, are found in the Hopley Family Papers, collection number MSS 164.

Organizational Records and Publications

The decades of women’s activism that lead to passage of the 19th Amendment was organized at the local, state and national level. In the Archives & Library we hold a collection from the Franklin County Woman Suffrage Association, collection number MSS 1025. It is comprised of letters to and from suffragists in Franklin County, state organizers at the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association based in Warren, Ohio, and national suffrage leaders, like Ida B. Wells president of the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago, Illinois, to plan suffrage events in Ohio.

Franklin County Woman Suffrage Association Records, MSS 1025

An especially broad collection are the records of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, collection number MSS 354. Before passage of the 19th Amendment the League was the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. The program for the last convention of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association and the first convention of the Ohio League of Women Voters held in the spring of 1920 in Columbus, Ohio, was for the same event. The organization’s new goals were to educate women voters and advocate for non-partisan issues. Additionally, the Archives & Library holds an extensive run of the newsletters and educational literature published by the Association and League.
Women in Ohio joined national suffrage organizations, such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association, later the national League of Women Voters, and the National Women’s Party.  We hold a collection of materials from the National Women’s Party, collection number MSS 909, likely donated by Ohio women who were members.  Like the League, the National Women’s Party moved forward from the passage of the 19th Amendment with new ideas. We found in this collection the language for the Equal Rights Amendment that they authored and introduced to the U.S. Congress in 1923, and also materials distributed for states to present equal rights bills to their legislatures.
There are also collections of organizational records in the Archives & Library that document other ways that women experienced discrimination and their activism for multiple causes. In the papers of the Vanguard League, collection number MSS 508, co-founder Constance Curtis Nichols recorded the challenge of daily activities, such as finding an apartment or going to the movies for African Americans in Columbus in the 1940s.

Government Records

The Ohio History Connection Archives & Library is the State Archives of Ohio and holds Ohio government records of enduring historical value.  Prior to the passage of a national suffrage amendment, women worked to pass suffrage amendments at the state level. In 1912, 1914 and 1917 there were statewide campaigns for Ohio women’s right to vote that received national attention. In suffragists’ memoirs and letters and the records of suffrage organizations we find insight into how these campaigns were mounted from the perspective of suffragists.  While in the State Archives collections we see how things like petitions for women suffrage were received by state government.

Ohio Secretary of State, Petitions for Constitutional Amendment to Woman’s Suffrage, SAS 2527

After voters rejected a women’s suffrage amendment in 1912, suffragists collected enough signatures to put the amendment back on the ballot in 1914.  In the Ohio Secretary of State records, series number SAS 2527, there are the original petitions for an “Amendment to the Constitution” that requested, “That section 1 of Article V of the Constitution be amended so as to extend the suffrage to women.” The petitions were circulated throughout Ohio in 1914. All the signatures on the petitions were men’s as only men were registered voters at the time. Suffragists from across the state marched to the Ohio Statehouse in July 1914 to present the petitions.


We have portraits of many of the women included in the traveling and digital exhibit Ohio Women Vote: 100 Years of Change in the Archives & Library.  Ohio newspapers published many photographs of suffrage events in the state, such as the parades in Columbus, Cleveland and other cities and towns that featured majestic floats and waves of marchers dressed in white.  In the collections of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the personal papers of some suffragists we have found a few of the original photographs.

League of Women Voters of Ohio Photographs, P 162

In photographs from the League of Women Voters of Ohio, collection number P 162, we have a photograph of a float that may have been used in a Cleveland suffrage parade in 1914.  This collection also holds a striking photograph of a suffragist on a white horse who has been identified on the back of the photograph as Matilda Spence.  Spence served as the Grand Marshall of the great suffrage parade held in Cleveland on October 3, 1914. However, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the rider is identified as Mrs. William Reed Taylor (Katherine Kelly Taylor) who also rode a horse in the parade beside the peace float and personified “Good Will.”

Let Ohio Women Vote Logo

The stunning logo of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association blended the Great Seal of the State of Ohio with the slogan “Let Ohio Women Vote.”  It was used by the Association in the 1910s on postcards, publications and letterhead that were sent all over Ohio during suffrage campains. We have found examples of the postcards and letterhead in the collections of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Franklin County Woman Suffrage Association and the personal papers of suffragists like Columbus architect Kenyon Hayden Rector and her sister, dentist Gillette Hayden (collection number MSS 389 and MSS 394).

Women’s Suffrage Postcard Collection, SC 5690
Finding More Materials and Current Collecting Efforts

The materials described here are a sampling of the Archives & Library holdings related to women’s suffrage and activism.  To find more search our Online Collections Catalog . Additionally, a sampling of our suffrage and women’s activism collections have been digitized and made available in the Ohio Memory digital library. Please send questions about the Archives & Library collections to [email protected].
While a valuable resource, we acknowledge that the women’s suffrage and activism collections currently held in the Archives & Library mostly tell the stories of white women. These collections also date primarily from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s.  A new Call for Collections seeks to preserve the experiences of a more diverse group of activists, particularly women of color and women in the LGBTQ community.  Their contributions to the historical suffrage movement were equal to that of white women and they are at the forefront of contemporary efforts to achieve equity for all women. 

Rhiannon Childs, organizer of the Ohio Women’s March.

We also seek collections that illustrate the more than one hundred years of change in women’s daily lives from 1920 to the present.  Examples of recent acquisitions include photographs of the Ohio Women’s March held in Columbus in January 2017 and lead by Rhiannon Childs, papers of Toledo, Ohio, native Gloria Steinem and campaign ephemera from the wave of Ohio women recently inspired to run for local and state offices. Questions about the Call for Collections can be directed to the curatorial staff at [email protected].
Lisa Wood
Audiovisual Curator
Ohio History Connection

Posted August 29, 2020

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