By Marietheres Pirngruber
In my second blog post about the US Suffrage movement, I ‘m taking a closer look at one of the sources: The Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. After sharing short biographies of both women, I will present and analyze the sources.
Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, were both active advocates and financial supporters of the women’s rights movement. Elizabeth Smith Miller was the only daughter of famous abolitionist landowner and Congressman Gerrith Smith and lived her life in large houses known for as centers of hospitality and philosophical discussion. Her childhood home in Peterboro, New York, was widely known as a refuge for reformers and nineteenth-century thinkers. Elizabeth Smith Miller continued this tradition at her estate, Lochland in Geneva, New York, which became known as a place suffragist supporters and social reformers frequently visited. Elizabeth’s only daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, grew up in this environment and lived at Lochland for her entire adult life, helping her mother to uphold its atmosphere of hospitality. They became particularly active as a mother and daughter team after the death of Anne’s father in 1896 that persuaded the New York State Woman’s Suffrage Association to hold its annual convention in Geneva, among other initiatives. Later, Anne Fitzhugh Miller founded the Geneva Political Equality Club (GPEC) and served as its president for over a decade. GPEC became a thriving organization and the largest in the state with almost 400 members by 1907. The political and social connections of the Millers allowed the Club to attract a wide range of nationally and internationally known lecturers such as the prominent suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was also Elizabeth Smith Miller’s cousin. Furthermore, GPEC served as a model for the formation of other local Political Equality Clubs like the Ontario County Political Equality Association. Anne Fitzhugh Miller also held office at the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association and participated in statewide national suffrage activities, held public speeches and represented New York State at a U.S. Senate hearing regarding women’s suffrage.
In this post, I will present the scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, which they compiled from 1897 until 1911. The collection is available in digital form on the Library of Congress website: Miller NAWSA suffrage scrapbooks, 1897-1911. The collection contains seven scrapbooks, the first ones covering the years 1897-1904, and subsequent ones covering one year each. What is most interesting, in my view, is that the scrapbooks function like source collections about the women’s suffrage movement on their own. They include newspaper articles, pamphlets, programs and photographs, and also personal items like letters. While the scrapbooks cover mostly the women suffrage movement and suffragists in New York State, especially the Geneva Political Equality Club, the New York State Women Suffrage Association, and the National American Women Suffrage Association, the scrapbooks also include sources covering the women’s suffrage movement in Great Britain, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled frequently, while staying in close contact with British suffragists.
I will take a closer look at pages 37 and 38 of the first Scrapbook from the years 1898 and 1899 and present the contents and difficulties associated with those sources. Since the pages document the same topic with different sources, they are especially interesting for a critical source review. The subject of both pages are GPEC meetings. Page 37 includes the program for the meeting on Dec. 19th, 1898, page 38 the programs of the meetings in January and February 1899. One can see that the meetings were usually held at the same location, on the same weekday and at the same time. Furthermore, the programs contain the agenda items like lectures, discussions or elections. There are matching newspaper clippings announcing the meetings or reporting about them. Additionally, there are two letters with their envelopes attached to both pages. Already those two pages contain a lot of information, in this case about GPEC, compiled from different sources. A newspaper article from The Geneva Courir, for example, contains detailed information about the February Meeting of GPEC. It reads almost like a detailed protocol, and the meeting’s agenda items are described, in addition to very detailed information like the absence of Anne Fitzhugh Miller and her representation through second Vice-president Mrs. Perkins.
The scrapbook is a collection of various sources, including official as well as private sources, which offers insights into the suffrage movement in the US, and about GPEC in particular. Still, it’s important to be aware of certain problems with this type of source. First of all, it is not obvious what kind of sources Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller included in the scrapbooks and which ones they did not. Furthermore, the origins of their sources aren’t always clear. The newspaper clippings mentioned on page 37 and 38, for example, don’t always include the newspaper sources and dates. Sometimes there is more information provided by handwritten notes, such as dates, but the origins of the sources are frequently missing. Additionally, there is a downside with the digitized version of the scrapbook. The letter from Mrs. Ver Planck on page 37 for example, is folded to save space inside the scrapbook. However, the page is only scanned with the folded letter inside so that one cannot actually read it in the digitized version.
The scrapbooks are rich sources for the development of the US suffrage movement, especially considering the background of the two exceptional suffragists who created the scrapbooks, the variety of sources that are included, and the time period of more than a decade. While not every clipping can be exactly assigned to its origin and the digitized version of the scrapbook does not allow every source to be analyzed, the scrapbooks contain many interesting sources that enlighten the organization of women’s suffrage organizations and movements.