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The Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller

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.

Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller, NAWSA collection, LC, p. 37, https://lccn.loc.gov/93838336

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. 

Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller, NAWSA collection, LC, p. 38, https://lccn.loc.gov/93838336

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.

National American Woman Suffrage Association Records

Editorial note: Marietheres Pirngruber is studying Global History (M.A.) at the University of Heidelberg. Her primary focus is on women’s and gender history, and she is especially interested in studying the transatlantic suffrage networks of the 19th and 20th centuries. She is currently completing her remote internship at the GHI. On the occasion of women’s history month, she  shares some of her interesting research on US suffrage history on href.

Finding primary sources is essential for any historian, yet during the ongoing pandemic it is also the biggest struggle. Online collections have provided much needed access to primary sources. Therefore, I’d like to highlight a collection from the Library of Congress (LOC), the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Records, which is partially accessible online. To situate the sources in context, I will briefly explain how NAWSA developed, when and how it was established, and what goals the organization pursued. I will then share examples of some the sources that are part of the online collection. Finally, I will discuss some problems related to the inclusion and exclusion of materials in the collection.

The National American Women Suffrage Association, which had about two million members,  was the largest voluntary organization to advocate for women’s suffrage in the US. Established in 1890, it was formed through the merger of two existing organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Both associations were established in 1869, and their rivalry was rooted in their disagreement after the Civil War about the 14th and 15th Amendments. While some leaders, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed their ratification unless women would be included, others, like Lucy Stone, supported the Reconstruction amendments, believing they would pave the way toward women’s suffrage. Subsequently, Stanton and Stone formed the two different associations, along with their allies.

In the following decades, social restrictions for women were challenged and undermined, like the idea of a “women’s sphere” at home and women’s main duty of being a wife and mother. Women also increasingly gained access to higher education. Even though many women attended colleges and universities by 1890, women’s suffrage was a long way off. In 1890, the two associations merged, a development driven by a younger generation of suffragists, including the daughters of Stanton and Stone. Finally reunited, NAWSA pursued a variety of ways to achieve women’s suffrage. While in the 1890s some women achieved suffrage victories in Western states, most other campaigns were unsuccessful.

In the twentieth century, however, suffragists developed innovative campaign strategies like suffrage parades and open-air meetings to make NAWSAs suffrage work more visible, which had a huge impact. While the movement remained divided among a variety of factions and organizations, the suffragists achieved a major victory with the passage of the 19thAmendment to the US Constitution, ratified in August of 1920. Following this milestone, NAWSA evolved into the League of Women Voters, dedicated to supporting international women’s rights movements and advocating for voter rights and women’s participation in politics.

Catt, Carrie Chapman, Former Owner, and National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. How It Feels to Be the Husband of a Suffragette
. [New York: George H. Doran Company, 1915] Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/15015726/>

The National American Woman Suffrage Association Records available at the Library of Congress contains over 26,000 items mostly covering the period from 1890 to 1930. Almost 2,000 of these have been digitized. The NAWSA records are part of a LOC topical campaign called “Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote” launched on the occasion of the 100thanniversary of the 19th Amendment. Transcribing and digitizing the sources makes the sources more accessible and brings together stories from women participating in the largest reform movement in American history. The collection also allows scholars and students to explore and understand the movement. The materials in this particular collection were donated from the personal libraries of numerous members of NAWSA, including Stanton and Stone, but also from later NAWSA presidents like Carrie Chapman Catt. The collection contains various textual sources like newspapers, books, pamphlets and scrapbooks but also photographs. The collection is organized according to NAWSA’s original structure into different topics like “Woman and Work” or “Parenthood and Related Subjects”. Besides biographies of members of NAWSA within the book section, there are also quite peculiar sources like the book “How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette” published in 1915 which was in possession of Carrie Chapman Catt and contains a humorous story of a suffrage supporter married to a suffragist. Other sources, like the scrapbook of suffragist Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, are within itself like a collection about the women’s suffrage movement. While they collected newspaper articles, programs and pamphlets there are also personal items like letters included. Especially interesting is that they also incorporated sources about the suffrage movement in Great Britain which show the connection between the movements across national borders.

Sources generally reflect a specific perspective on historic circumstances. However, they can only offer a glimpse into the past through a very subjective lens and therefore always have to be viewed critically. The biggest problem with this collection is that its contents originate from NAWSA’s members which were mostly well-educated, middle- and upper-class white women from the northern States of the US. Therefore, the sources can only reflect their perception on different issues and automatically exclude perspectives from women from the working class, women of colour and women from the southern States. Keeping that in mind, the sources are still very interesting and reveal what materials those women collected, whom they collected it for, and how they hoped to use it.  As always, the interpretation of the collections depends more on the formulation of one’s research question than on the diversity of the sources. Furthermore, the collection provides insights into the structure of the largest women’s suffrage association in the US and its members. Finally, while always keeping in mind that the sources ought to be interpreted critically, the Collection of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Records is a wide collection of sources, which can provide an interesting perspective on the American Woman Suffrage Movement.