Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Suffrage History

What’s the Plan?

Last semester, as part of an institutional analysis on the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, I hypothetically proposed a map that would provide access to profiles of suffragists from different socioeconomic, racial, and geographic backgrounds. By demonstrating the breadth of these backgrounds, a visitor would be able to understand why a woman might have chosen to join a suffrage organization such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) or the National Women’s Party (NWP), or why she may have chosen not to affiliate with either group. In this class I would like to take the opportunity to actualize that map, through historypin.

Women of color and those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds were often excluded from suffrage organizations and narratives, leaving a gap in our understanding of suffrage history today. My proposed project would therefore collect profiles of these women who participated in the women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries through official organizations or on their own terms and organize them on a historypin map.

Who Would be Looking at It?

As the centennial of women’s suffrage approaches, there will be growing interest in the history of the suffrage movement. This project then, would apply to all those interested in knowing more about the women themselves. This could be a teaching tool in middle school or high school class rooms, or could be a learning tool for a someone with a casual interest but a desire to know more. It will most directly target those with a prior interest in women’s and suffrage history. In theory then, the project has a potentially large audience base.

Are There Other Suffrage Maps Out There?

There are a number of historypin tours related to women’s suffrage. However, these tours are location dependent, and tell a conventional story of white, middle-class reformers. For example, Humanities New York created a historypin of the suffrage campaign throughout their state, detailing locations of important meetings, locations, and biographies of influential members. Interestingly, they also included present-day events, such as “Convention Days 2017,” and the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association’s meeting in November 2016. Another example can be found in the digital exhibit on the Arkansas Women’s Suffrage Centennial by the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. The exhibit includes an imbedded map that allows visitors to explore landmarks in Arkansas related to suffrage history. Finally, the National Archives has a small historypin map detailing women’s suffrage campaigns in D.C.

While all of these maps depict localized events for potentially local audiences, my proposed project would depict this history on a national scale. In addition, these maps, perhaps because of their locations or because of the resources available to them, rely on traditional organization-based history, and so do not include women of color or women of lower socioeconomic status, who had a fraught relationship with NAWSA and the NWP. This map then, would serve to ameliorate these issues.

What Would Outreach Look Like?

As a historypin map, this project will be available for anyone who searches “suffrage” on the site. However, to increase outreach there are a number of possible avenues. For example, as this project originated with ideas based at the Belmont-Paul, reaching out to the public programming and digital media teams there could result in publicity on social media or on their webpage. This in turn would increase viewing traffic on the map.

What Does Success Mean For This Project?

There are a number of challenges facing this project. Because the NWP and NAWSA at times actively worked to exclude women of color and those of lower socioeconomic classes, these women often left few official records, making it hard to research them today. Potential resource includes the website for the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, which includes webpages on African American suffragists and spotlights on suffragists from across the country. In light of these challenges, a successful project will be one that leverages the existing material to create a fuller picture of suffrage history.

One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Suffrage History”

  1. You’ve identified a great topic and it’s fantastic that you have the tie in and connection to the Women’s Equity National Monument. So you are already off to a great start. It’s great that you are also identifying how privilege and intersectionality effect our understanding of the suffrage movement.

    Creating a historypin map seems like a solid way to create an interesting and useful project. If you do go ahead and create a national map, that will be interesting and useful but you should think through the contexts and audiances that you will use it. A bit part of the value of history pin is in it’s tour functionality which clearly doesn’t work for a national map.

    The focus of your project on profiles is smart. We need to know more about individual women and their contributions and profiles are a great way to get there. To that end, it may be worth considering if part of this project could connect with biography and Wikipedia. As we’ve discussed in class, there are some great movements to try and better diversify the content of Wikipedia and biography is one of the key areas of content that make that network work. If you wanted to, you might even consider if it makes sense to pivot and think about how you might do some initial research to identify key women that should have biographies on Wikipedia. In that vein, you could then even try something like hosting a Wikipedia editathon at the National Monument.

    So you could well try and get better coverage of these women in Wikipedia and then look at how you could map them out. Or it could well be that Wikipedia might be the platform for the project itself.

    In any event, you’re thinking about an important topic and issue and you’ve got some great ideas going to start. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how your project and ideas develop.

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