Tag Archives: exhibits

Archives Exhibit Supports DNCR Initiative: “She Changed the World: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers”

[This blog post was written by Donna E. Kelly, Head of Special Collections.]

The State Archives of North Carolina has put together a display of 10 archival documents and other items relating to women’s suffrage, including the original copy of the Nineteenth Amendment sent to North Carolina for ratification in June of 1919. Usually housed in the vault, this document (along with anti-suffrage and pro-suffrage propaganda, hand-held fans, facsimiles of legislation and political cartoons, and a suffragist’s sash) will be traveling around the state from August 22, 2019 through November of 2020.

Political cartoon from the Equal Suffrage Amendment Collection, PC.1618.1, State Archives of North Carolina.

The exhibit, titled “An Absolute Moral Certainty”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in North Carolina, consists of three panels: “Early Efforts Supporting Suffrage for Women,” “Post-War Opposition to Suffrage for Women,” and “Suffrage for All Women.” The title of the exhibit comes from a quote out of Gov. Thomas W. Bickett’s address to the joint session of the General Assembly on August 13, 1920, in which he urges legislators to ratify the amendment.

This display is part of a 15-month long DNCR commemoration of women gaining the right to vote. Titled, “She Changed the World: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers,” it highlights the accomplishments of women across the centuries. A kickoff event at the State Capitol is planned for Saturday, September 7, 2019. For more information visit  https://bit.ly/2L7qsp8.

In addition to the traveling exhibit, the State Archives is also conducting an oral history project to interview 100 women from across the state who have made significant contributions in areas like government/politics, education, STEM, culture, athletics, activism, or entrepreneurship. For more information about how to get involved visit https://bit.ly/2kfvXIZ.

Additional resources pertaining to women’s suffrage are found in the North Carolina Digital Collections, a collaborative project between the State Library and the State Archives. To view those resources, visit https://bit.ly/2zvbRhP.

“An Absolute Moral Certainty”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in North Carolina

The National Woman Suffrage Association, founded by Susan B. Anthony, began pressuring Congress in the 1870s to amend the Constitution to guarantee women’s right to vote. Even though that effort failed, several states and territories granted suffrage through their state constitutions. North Carolina’s chapter of the Equal Suffrage Association, formed in 1894, had the same goal. The first attempt to grant women suffrage in North Carolina came in February of 1897 when J. L. Hyatt, a Republican from Yancey County, introduced a bill in the state senate. Legislators referred it to the Committee on Insane Asylums because Hyatt chaired that committee. The bill, which never made it out of committee, was eventually tabled and no action was taken.

At the turn of the twentieth century, activity to promote women’s suffrage subsided until 1913. Among others, Gertrude Weil (1879–1971) of Goldsboro helped establish local chapters of the Equal Suffrage Association. She served as president and fought tirelessly for ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. She went on to serve as president of the League of Women Voters and lived to see the amendment finally ratified in her home state on May 6, 1971, only a few weeks before her death on May 30, 1971.

An undated picture of Gertrude Weil from the Gertrude Weil Papers, PC.1488.50, State Archives.

Pro-suffrage efforts by the Equal Suffrage Association included lobbying legislators, writing letters to state leaders, and distributing printed media (circulars, broadsides, and pamphlets) to support the cause. Long before e-mail, mass-produced form letters targeted certain audiences. Hundreds of letters were mailed to prominent residents of the state asking them to encourage their local representatives to support the amendment. Suffragists also wore sashes for rallies, parades, and street speaking.

The Equal Suffrage Association was not equal in the true sense of the word. It excluded African Americans, who began to assert their own political rights through churches, clubs, and suffrage societies. Women of color, like Charlotte Hawkins Brown, traveled extensively around the state promoting women’s suffrage and racial equality. She advanced education among her community and was a strong advocate of voter registration for all races of women.

A ca. 1910s image of Charlotte Hawkins Brown provided by North Carolina State Historic Sites.

Despite the concerted effort of suffragists, the 1915 legislature did not support the amendment, either as a state or federal constitutional amendment. The main opponents were white legislators from those counties with a sizeable African American population. They feared that people of color would be allowed to vote again, after decades of disenfranchisement. Using white supremacist tactics, some handbills warned Southern men to avoid even associating with women who were asking for equal suffrage, because giving women the right to vote would unleash “another period of reconstruction horror.”

Part of a larger broadside entitled, “The Negro and the New Social Order,” this 1919 anti-suffrage handbill is from the Equal Suffrage Amendment Collection, PC.1618.1, State Archives.

After World War I, on the heels of substantial wartime contributions by women, members of the Equal Suffrage Association felt confident that the North Carolina legislature would ratify the amendment. However, that did not happen, and legislators thwarted other attempts to allow women to vote in primaries or municipal elections.

On January 10, 1918, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate approved the Nineteenth Amendment. To become law, 36 out of 48 states needed to ratify it. North Carolina’s General Assembly received its copy of the amendment on June 12, 1919. By that time 35 states had ratified it, so only one more state needed to approve it. All eyes were on North Carolina at the national level.

This cartoon appeared on the back of a national pro-suffrage magazine. It uses the popular game “Love Me, Love Me Not?” to point out the North Carolina legislature’s indecision on the issue of women’s suffrage. From the Equal Suffrage Amendment Collection, PC.1618.1, State Archives.

Over the course of the next year, anti-suffrage groups sprang into action. Mary Hilliard Hinton (1869–1961) of Knightdale founded a state branch of the Southern League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment (Southern Rejection League). Backed by legislators who wanted to retain their seats in the General Assembly and textile owners who opposed child labor restrictions, this group was very active, using the same strategies as the pro-suffrage organizations. The States’ Rights Defense League formed in opposition to the federal amendment, asserting that it would destroy southern womanhood and disturb the American home. It also claimed that men would have to assume household duties.

Anti-suffrage broadside, a portion of which is from the Equal Suffrage Amendment Collection, PC.1618.1, State Archives.

Gov. Thomas W. Bickett called for a special session of the General Assembly to begin August 10, 1920 to vote on whether to ratify the amendment or not. At the start of the special session, 63 House members sent a Western Union Special telegram to the Tennessee General Assembly, dated August 11, 1920, urging them to reject the amendment. The telegram assured the legislators that North Carolina would not vote for women’s suffrage. It was a last-ditch effort to keep the Old North State from having to decide the fate of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

Governor Bickett addressed the joint session of the General Assembly on August 13, 1920. He claimed that he personally opposed the amendment but realized the inevitability of its adoption. Therefore, he encouraged legislators to vote for it because ratification was “an absolute moral certainty” and “it would be the part of wisdom and of grace for North Carolina to ratify the amendment.”

After some debate, on August 17, 1920 the N.C. senate voted 25 to 23 to delay the matter until the 1921 session, on the grounds that they wanted enough time to discuss the matter with their constituents before voting. The bottom line was that they wanted to avoid making such a momentous and far-reaching decision. It became a moot point when Tennessee voted for ratification on August 18, 1920 and white women were granted the right to vote in the November 1920 election.

A few years later the Indian Citizenship Act asserted Native American women’s right to vote in 1924. African American women did not have a guaranteed right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even though North Carolina’s legislature (and many of its residents) did not support the Nineteenth Amendment initially, and women already possessed the right to vote and had been exercising it, the General Assembly finally ratified it, albeit symbolically, on May 6, 1971. There was no dissension and it passed both houses unanimously.

Grosgrain sash from the Equal Suffrage Amendment Collection, PC.1618.1, State Archives.

Document Facsimiles Relating to Slave Research on Display at the State Archives of North Carolina

[This blog is written and illustrated by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections Section, of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

The Search Room exhibit case, August 2019, features examples of resources for researchers seeking information about enslaved ancestors. The title is “Evidence of African American Ancestors in Unlikely Places: Examples from Private Collections, Including Account Books, at the State Archives of North Carolina.”

Photo of the exhibit case in the Search Room with facsimile documents on display.
Search Room exhibit case.
Photo of an African American woman sitting in a chair with her hair up in a bun. she is wearing a checkered shirt and a long, dark colored skirt.
Emma Jones Allen, emancipated from slavery. Allen, Carter, Gwynn Family Collection, PC.2154.V.12

Researching enslaved ancestors can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating process. One must work backwards from the known to the unknown, often turning up more questions than answers. However, private manuscript collections, including account books, sometimes provide crucial information about names, locales, and other details. These can supplement county records such as deeds, wills, and court minutes and can provide valuable insights not found elsewhere. The examples below represent the facsimiles in the exhibit and the accompanying captions.

Note of Permission from William Ezell, Sr. for Slave, James, to Marry, Signed July 24, 1825
Note of Permission from William Ezell, Sr. for Slave, James, to Marry, Signed July 24, 1825

In this note of permission, William Ezell, Sr., advises Col. E. Peete that his slave James, who wishes to marry one of Peete’s slaves, is “as well Disposed as common as fair [sic] as I know or believe.” No county is listed, but during the first half of the 19th century there were men named William Ezell in counties including Camden Duplin, Granville, and Richmond. Note: Help solve the mystery. We welcome confirmation of the county where the Ezell and Peete plantations were located.

From Slave Collection. PC.1629. Box 1, Folder 4.

Deed: Marriage Contract of Bennett T. Blake & Scheherazade Mial, Wake County, N.C., 16 Feb. 1837 (two excerpts from longer document)
Deed: Marriage Contract of Bennett T. Blake & Scheherazade Mial, Wake County, N.C., 16 Feb. 1837 (two excerpts from longer document)
Deed: Marriage Contract of Bennett T. Blake & Scheherazade Mial, Wake County, N.C., 16 Feb. 1837 (two excerpts from longer document)

Oaky Grove Plantation, southeastern Wake County, was owned first by Thomas Price, then Bennett T. Blake. Blake had married a Price daughter, Fetna, who died in 1836, then married her sister, Scheherazade, widow of Thomas Alonzo Mial III, who had died in 1830. The slaves named in the marriage contract between Scheherazade and Blake, were part of the Mial estate. Thomas Price was also one of the county’s largest slaveholders. Note the juxtaposition: in addition to enslaved men, women, and children, Scheherezade’s contract secured physical properties, such as a four-wheel carriage and harness.

From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 3.

Bill of Sale, 1845: George W. Styron of Carteret County, N.C., Sells Two Slave Children, Harriet and Hannah, to William Jones, a Free Mulatto of Jones County, N.C.
Bill of Sale, 1845: George W. Styron of Carteret County, N.C., Sells Two Slave Children, Harriet and Hannah, to William Jones, a Free Mulatto of Jones County, N.C.

This bill of sale, dated 22 July 1845, documents the sale by George W. Styron, Carteret County, to William Jones, Jones County, of five-year-old-Harriet and nine-year-old Hannah. In 1860, the same William Jones was still living and farming in the Beaver Creek District, Jones County, where he died in 1868. The collection and public records shed little if any additional light on the life journey of these two girls. The Rumley papers, however, do contain other materials and types of document on slaves and freedmen. For additional information see the State Archives blog, History for All the People, for a post written by Elizabeth Crowder and entitled “The Rumley Family Papers: A New Collection Featuring Resources for Researchers Seeking Information About Enslaved Ancestors.

From Rumley Family Papers, PC.1969, Box 2, Folder 51.

Promissory Note for Hire of a Negro boy, Simon, Wake County, 27 Dec. 1847
Promissory Note for Hire of a Negro boy, Simon, Wake County, 27 Dec. 1847

Transcription:

“Twelve months after date we promise to pay Thomas F. Grice Ex. [Executor] of Hugh Lee, Dec’d, on order Twenty Seven Dollars for the hire of a negro Boy named Simon [.] Said negro to have the following clothes [:]Two suits of cotton clothes and one of woolen, one pair of Double soled shoes, one pair of stockings, one good Blanket, one wool Hat for value received on this 27 Dec. 1847.”
Signed by A. T. Mial (Also, C. Bryan; A. Montague, Witnesses)

From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 4-B.

Deeds of Gift Bequeathing Peter and Ailsey, Robeson County, 1851
Deeds of Gift Bequeathing Peter and Ailsey, Robeson County, 1851

Peter and Ailsey, a man of forty-five and a girl of fifteen, the subjects of these deeds of gift, were enslaved by the McKay family of Robeson County. In 1851, “for the love and affection” Christian McKay Galbreath had for her two nephews, Duncan and Dougald McKay, she sold Peter and Ailsey to them for a dollar each. Peter died in 1896. Ailsey’s descendants continued to live on the McKay farm into the 20th century.

McKay, McPherson, McNeill Family Papers, PC.2144.3 McKay Family Papers, 1790–1984, Box 3, Folder 01.

Receipt for sale of Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally (Wilmington, N.C.) 1853
Receipt for sale of Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally (Wilmington, N.C.) 1853

Slave receipt/bill of sale, with one for Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally; and the other for Cloey, a girl. The documents are dated 4 May 1853 and 5 March 1862, respectively. The receipt shown was given at Wilmington, New Hanover County, N.C. by Ansley Davis to Speir [Spier] Walters, in the amount of $1,000 for Catey, a slave woman and children, Mary, Richard, and Sally. Receipt attests that all are healthy, but the child Mary is “marked with burns.”

From the Bill of Sale of Catey and Children [and one other bill of sale] Collection, PC.2094.

Impressment of John, Slave of A. T. Mial, for Service as a Teamster, Supposedly for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, 15 March 1864
Impressment of John, Slave of A. T. Mial, for Service as a Teamster, Supposedly for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, 15 March 1864

Transcription:

“E O. Wake Co. Raleigh, N.C. March 15 [1864] This day received of A. T. Mial one negro Slave named John aged 26 years for duty as teamster in Genrl. Johnson’s army.” Signed by E. Porter, Capt. E.O. Wake County. The slaveholder referred to was probably Alonzo Thomas Rush Mial, Sr. (1823–1897), the son of Thomas Alonzo Mial (1799–1830) and Scheherazade Price Mial Blake (1805–1853).

Note: Teamsters loaded and drove supply trains/wagons, often returning in dangerous terrain to the march or to the camp. The Confederate government had passed a slave impressment law on March 26, 1863. Slaves were used extensively, though the effort was not as successful as the generals had hoped.

From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 18.

Page from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Birth and Death Dates, 1852–1864
Page from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Birth and Death Dates, 1852–1864

The J. & W. Peace general store was located on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, from approximately 1798 until 1832, when the store burned. Before and after the building’s demise, the proprietors used the store ledger to keep a record of slaves owned by them and other family members, with slave birth and death dates ranging from 1784 to 1864. Example shown is one of six pages of entries.

Page Section and Scrap from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Births and Death Dates, 1852–1864
Page Section and Scrap from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Births and Death Dates, 1852–1864

The note written on a piece of scrap paper (bottom of photo) recorded names and birth dates temporarily until they could be entered permanently into the account book (top of photo):

Matilda (daughter of Mary) born 4th March 1864.
Patsey (daughter of Harriet) born 22nd April 1864.

Both document photos above from the Joseph & William Peace Account Book, 1784–1864, Wake County. Page 297. PC.AB.132.

In summary, researchers of enslaved populations and freedmen in North Carolina may find a variety of resources, both in public and private records. County records contain deeds, wills, and court minutes, and some counties have a miscellaneous series that contains slave records. While these can be rich sources, private collections and account books surely supplement public records in ways that have often been overlooked.

Document Facsimiles Relating to Blackbeard and the Queen Anne’s Revenge on Display at the State Archives of North Carolina

[This blog post comes from Donna E. Kelly, head of the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

A page of handwritten text of Court minutes for men accused of storing Blackbeard's booty.

Part of the General Court minutes for men accused of storing Blackbeard’s booty. Colonial Court Records. State Archives of North Carolina [call number: C.C.R. 103]

To commemorate the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, the State Archives of North Carolina is displaying several facsimiles of documents relating to his exploits along the coast, including his capture and death. The display, “Gone Out a Pirateing”: Blackbeard and the Queen Anne’s Revenge, is currently on display in the State Archives’ Search Room and will run through early October.

“Gone Out a Pirateing” features a 1709 map of North Carolina and pages from the Chowan General Court Papers and the Executive Council Journal, both dated 1719. They include descriptive testimony against Edward Thatch, otherwise known as Blackbeard. The display also includes photocopies of four documents from the British National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office [PRO]). They were obtained through the Colonial Records Project, an initiative in the 1960s to copy all documents pertaining to North Carolina that were filed in the PRO.

From September 18 through October 1, this small exhibit will be displayed on the second floor of the Archives and History/State Library Building (109 East Jones St., Raleigh). It will run Tuesdays through Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. A digitized version of the document, with additional pages, is available for viewing 24/7 in the North Carolina Digital Collections.

Treasures of Carolina Exhibit Closes July 31

Tracing of a baby's hand from a letter written by Martha Hendley Poteet to Francis Marion Poteet, June 16, 1864. Poteet-Dickson Letters, Private Collections.

Tracing of a baby’s hand from a letter written by Martha Hendley Poteet to Francis Marion Poteet, June 16, 1864. Poteet-Dickson Letters, Private Collections.

This weekend is your last chance to see some of the State Archives’ treasures while they are on display at the North Carolina Museum of History. The exhibit Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives will close after July 31. The exhibit has been at the museum since October 24, 2015 and illustrates the history of North Carolina and the role of the State Archives in preserving and providing access to both modern records and historical materials. The exhibit includes items such as:

  • The earliest will known to exist in North Carolina, recorded in 1665 by Mary Fortsen. It is unusual because female property owners were extremely rare in the 1600s.
  • The hand-drawn map used as evidence during the 1867 trial of Tom Dula, who was indicted and hanged for murdering Laura Foster. Dula’s fate is told in the popular ballad “Tom Dooley.”
  • A Civil War letter from Martha A. E. Henley Poteet to her husband, Francis Marion Poteet, who was away at war. She enclosed a cutout of her 4-week-old daughter’s hand with the request “write to Me what to name her.”
  • A 1903 copy of the North Carolina Constitutional Reader. In 1901 rules were enacted to prevent illiterate African Americans from voting, and this book was published to help African Americans read the Constitution in case they were questioned at the polls when trying to vote.
  • Information on GIS and website preservation.
  • Audio recordings of World War I soldiers’ oral histories.
  • North Carolina’s official copy of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and 26th Amendment which allowed U. S. citizens 18 years and older to vote.

To learn more, visit the exhibit page on the North Carolina Museum of History website.

"Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives of North Carolina" exhibit flyer

“Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives of North Carolina” exhibit flyer

View North Carolina’s Original Bill of Rights June 15-19 at the N.C. Museum of History

The point of controversy eventually rested on one issue and the argument in North Carolina was vigorous, at times contentious. Conservatives led by James Iredell wanted the document left alone. Their opponents, led by Willie Jones, insisted on added protections for individual liberties.

The document protecting individual liberties that North Carolina demanded before ratifying the U.S. Constitution will be displayed Wednesday, June 15, through Sunday, June 19, in the exhibit, “Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives” at the N.C. Museum of History. Admission is free.

For a while there was heated debate about the Bill of Rights, each side rounding up more allies. The internal stalemate escalated, preventing North Carolina from taking action, but by November 1789, the state finally ratified the U.S. Constitution with the longed-for Bill of Rights as its first 10 amendments.

George Washington had a copy of the Bill of Rights created for each state. North Carolina’s copy was held in the State Capitol building when, in 1865, it was stolen by a Union soldier. Recovered in an FBI sting operation almost 150 years later, North Carolina’s official copy of the Bill of Rights resides in one of two vaults in the State Archives.

Rarely displayed because of its fragile condition, museum visitors will be able to view this document for one week in the Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives exhibit at the Museum of History in Raleigh.

“The Bill of Rights belongs to the people of North Carolina,” stated Sarah Koonts, state archivist. “We are the custodians of a document that guarantees freedom and liberties to United States citizens and we are happy to have the opportunity to exhibit this treasure to the public.”

Visitors to the Treasures of Carolina exhibit will discover the important role of the State Archives of North Carolina — the state’s memory bank. From parchment documents to digital files, the State Archives collects, preserves and makes accessible over 100 million treasures chronicling the Tar Heel State, past and present.

The variety of public records and private manuscript collections in the exhibit focuses on three themes: providing evidence of civil and property rights, government transparency, and the preservation of North Carolina’s history and culture.

 A sampling of the exhibit treasures includes:

  •  The earliest will known to exist in North Carolina, recorded in 1665 by Mary Fortsen. It is unusual because female property owners were extremely rare in the 1600s.
  • An 1839 petition for United States citizenship, signed by Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam (now Thailand). They settled in Wilkes County and married sisters. Altogether, the families had 21 children.
  • The hand-drawn map used as evidence during the 1867 trial of Tom Dula, who was indicted and hanged for murdering Laura Foster. Dula’s fate is told in the popular ballad “Tom Dooley.”
  • A Civil War letter from Martha A. E. Henley Poteet to her husband, Francis Marion Poteet, who was away at war. She enclosed a cutout of her 4-week-old daughter’s hand with the request “write to Me what to name her.” The family lived in McDowell County.
  • A 1903 copy of the North Carolina Constitutional Reader. In 1901 rules were enacted to prevent illiterate African Americans from voting, and this book was published to help African Americans read the Constitution in case they were questioned at the polls when trying to vote.
  • Audio recordings of World War I soldiers’ oral histories.

 Treasures of Carolina will run through July 31, 2016. The Bill of Rights will be displayed June 15 through June 19.

 

To Preserve the Blessings of Liberty: State Constitutions of North Carolina

[This blog post comes from Sarah Koonts, Director of Archives and Records for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

“A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty”

N.C. Constitution art. 1, sec. 35

Once separated from the rule of England, North Carolina—like other former colonies—found itself with no governmental structure. Before the end of 1776, the state had a constitution very different from today’s document. For example, the General Assembly—and not citizens—selected the governor for a one-year term. Only free men of at least twenty-one years of age could vote.  Only landowners could hold political office. The social structure of eighteenth-century America informed those men who drafted the constitution and North Carolina’s Declaration of Rights.

Portion of the Constitution of the United States as Approved by North Carolina, 1789.

Portion of the Constitution of the United States as Approved by North Carolina, 1789.

North Carolina continued to amend the constitution and eventually adopted entirely new constitutions in 1868 and 1971. The rights and protections of some of the state’s citizens were broadened while other rights remained restricted or hampered.  Over the years the structure of state government changed, increasing the power of the governor, providing for direct elections for many executive offices, reorganizing government departments and agencies, and eliminating restrictions to rights.

Part of the State Constitution of 1868.

Part of the State Constitution of 1868.

Throughout 2016 the State Archives is partnering with museums and historic sites to display historic constitutional materials around the state.  Called “To Preserve the Blessings of Liberty:  State Constitutions of North Carolina,” exhibit locations and times may be found on the State Archives’ Facebook page. The public is invited to view these documents while they are on display. The inaugural exhibit will take place at the opening of the 2016 General Assembly session.  It will feature North Carolina’s early constitutions, the original Declaration of Rights, and amendments to the state and U.S. Constitution that affected citizen voting rights.  The exhibit will be located on the main floor of the General Assembly building (16 West Jones Street in Raleigh) from 2 p.m. on April 25 through April 26 at 3 p.m.  All of the State Archives’ constitution materials housed in the vault collection are available for viewing any time in the North Carolina Digital Collections.

“A Fight for Citizenship:” Exhibit on Women’s Suffrage Now Open in Search Room

[This blog post was written by Josh Hager, Reference Archivist in the Reference Unit of the Collections Services Section.]

The Suffragists' Calendar, a year-book for every thinking woman

The Suffragists’ Calendar, a year-book for every thinking woman,” Gertrude Weil Papers (PC.1488), State Archives of North Carolina

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the State Archives of North Carolina is proud to announce our new Search Room exhibit, “A Fight for Citizenship: The 19th Amendment and Women’s Suffrage in North Carolina.” The bulk of the facsimiles included come from the private collection of Gertrude Weil, a prominent suffragist from Goldsboro. She was active in organizations such as the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League, the Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the League of Women Voters. Her collection spans 42 cubic feet and over one-hundred boxes of material, constituting a treasure trove for researchers into the women’s suffrage movement.

The collections of the State Archives provide a wealth of material concerning women’s suffrage, from letters and broadsides to the correspondence of state and local officials. Narrowing those choices down to the ten items on display proved difficult, but the items selected allow for a glance at several important documents and themes.

Visitors will also see a facsimile of the 19th Amendment, specifically the cover page sent by the U.S. Secretary of State to the N.C. Secretary of State which includes an official seal. The amendment arrived in North Carolina’s hands in 1919 and the General Assembly first considered it in 1920. However, legislators did not hold an up-or-down vote on the amendment in 1920; historians agree that the amendment would likely have lost the vote based on the legislators’ stated positions. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee narrowly voted for the 19th Amendment, making women’s suffrage the law of the land nationwide. North Carolina did not ultimately ratify the 19th Amendment until 1971 under Governor Bob Scott. The only state to ratify it after North Carolina was Mississippi in 1984.

Letter from Josephus Daniels to Gertrude Weil, Feb. 12, 1920

Letter from Josephus Daniels to Gertrude Weil, Feb. 12, 1920, Gertrude Weil Papers (PC.1488), State Archives of North Carolina

Visitors will also get a chance to look at the amount of work and dedication needed to make women’s suffrage a reality. Gertrude Weil’s personal efforts are on display through an organizational pamphlet where she was elected as an officer and through correspondence with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to promote the cause. Photographs show women in a campaign office as well as at a public gathering wearing sashes for equality. “The Suffragist’s Calendar: A Year-book for Thinking Women” is a day-planner with helpful tips for political organization. Finally, the exhibit includes a letter from the leaders of two organizations asking for unity as women fought for the shared goal of the vote.

Amidst the triumphs of 1920, the exhibit also includes two examples of the opposition faced by the proponents of suffrage. Governor Thomas Bickett sent a message to the General Assembly in opposition to the 19th Amendment, arguing that women should not lower themselves to the political arena. His tone of social condescension was commonplace for 1920, but others in opposition held more unique views. For example, a petition to the General Assembly sent by a concerned citizen from Connecticut argued that women voting would increase ignorance at the polling place and that it was no better than a Soviet plot.

Western Union telegram from G.L. Grosgrove to the Speaker of the House on the topic of the 19th Amendment

Western Union telegram from G.L. Grosgrove to the Speaker of the House on the topic of the 19th Amendment, General Assembly Session Records, 1920, State Archives of North Carolina

Despite the opposition, women in North Carolina and across the country gained the right to vote in 1920. We hope that our exhibit gives you a small window into the incredible people and organizations that fought for equality and succeeded. The exhibit is currently scheduled to run through the end of April, so please plan on visiting the Search Room soon.

Other archival items related to role of women in North Carolina’s 20th century history are available through the North Carolina Digital Collections.