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Helen Keller Archive

A fully accessible digital collection from
the American Foundation for the Blind

Part 4: Extension Activity: Document-Based Question (DBQ)

Newspaper clipping circa 1915 - Anne Sullivan Macy's scrapbook. All the articles are in support of women's suffrage, and three include black and white portraits of their authors, all white women.
Newspaper clipping circa 1915, from Anne Sullivan Macy’s scrapbook. All the articles are in support of women’s suffrage, and three include black and white portraits of their authors, all white women. Full transcript available in the archive.

4.1 DBQ Lesson Preview:

  • We’ve seen Helen Keller’s arguments for women’s suffrage. She talks about women’s essential rights as people, about their need to advocate for themselves, instead of depending on male protection, and we’ve even seen her talk about the struggle of working-class women to challenge economic exploitation.
  • We are going to compare Helen Keller’s views with those of other suffragists. What other factors shaped their call for women’s suffrage?

4.2 Explain:

  • Today you will examine 3 more sources on women’s suffrage.
  • We will review them together, you’ll take notes in your graphic organizer (Word file), and then you will write a DBQ comparing and contrasting their arguments with those made by Helen Keller.
  • How are they similar to Helen Keller? Each other? Where do they differ?
  • How do gender, race, class, and other identity markers influence each creator’s perspective on suffrage?

4.3 Do:

  • Introduce each document individually; optional slides are provided.
  • Read each document together as a class.
  • Share contextual information included in the slides.
  • Discuss the main idea of each document.

4.4 Helen Keller’s “Why Men Need Woman Suffrage” Article

  • Introduce the document “Why Men Need Woman Suffrage”, originally published the October 17, 1915 edition of the New York Call.
  • Share background information: In an article that first appeared in a socialist paper The New York Call, Helen Keller argues that a “chaotic” world full of inequity can only be remedied if women have equal access to economic power through the ballot box.
  • Preview discussion questions.
  • Read the essay excerpt together as a class.

A majority of women that need the vote are wage-earners. A tremendous change has taken place in the industrial world since power machines took the place of hand tools. Men and women have been compelled to adjust themselves to a new system of production and distribution. The machine has been used to exploit the labor of both men and women as it was never exploited before….Yet women have nothing to say about conditions under which they live and toil. Helpless, unheeded, they must endure hardships that lead to misery and degradation. They may not-lift a hand to defend themselves against cruel, crippling processes that stunt the body and brain and bring on early death or premature old age. Working men suffer from the helplessness of working women. They must compete in the same offices and factories with women who are unable to protect themselves with proper laws….It is to the interest of all workers to end this stupid, onesided, one-power arrangement and have suffrage for all.

  • Ask and discuss:
    • What is Keller saying about women’s suffrage?
    • How is gender portrayed in this essay?
    • How do gender, race, class, and other identity markers affect her view of voting rights?
    • What audience is she trying to reach? Do you think she was effective? Why or why not?
    • How does her argument resonate with you today?

4.5 Adella Hunt Logan’s Essay

  • Share background information: The Crisis is the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights organization founded in 1909. This article was written by Adella Hunt Logan, a black teacher at the Tuskegee Institute and an activist working for education, health care, prison reform, and suffrage.
  • Preview discussion questions.
  • Read the essay excerpt together as a class.

“More and more colored women are studying public questions and civics. As they gain information and have experience in their daily vocations and in their efforts for human betterment they are convinced….that their effort would be more telling if women had the vote…

Adequate school facilities in city, village, and plantation districts greatly concern the black mother. But without a vote she has no voice in educational legislation and no power to see that her children secure their share of public-school funds…

When colored juvenile delinquents are arraigned, few judges or juries feel bound to give them the clemency due a neglected class. When sentence is pronounced on these mischievous youngsters, too often they are imprisoned with adult criminals…When colored mothers ask for a reform school for a long time they receive no answer. They must wait while they besiege their legislature. Having no vote they need not be feared or heeded. The “right of petition” is good; but it is much better when well voted in.”

“Colored Women As Voters,” Adella Hunt Logan, essay in The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, September 1912.

Essay titled COLORED WOMEN AS VOTERS, with an inset photo of the author, a black woman with her hair pulled high. She is resting her chin on her hand, and wearing a long dark dress with billowy sleeves.
Screenshot of a page of The Crisis, including the opening paragraphs of “Colored Women as Voters” by Adella Hunt Logan and a black and white portrait of Ida R. Cummings. Text from the article is excerpted above.
  • Ask and discuss:
    • What is Hunt-Logan saying about women’s suffrage?
    • How is gender portrayed in this essay?
    • How do her racial identity and her view of race affect her view of voting rights?
    • What audience is she trying to reach? Do you think she was effective? Why or why not?
    • How does her argument resonate with you today?

4.6 Helen Keller’s “Why Woman Wants to Vote” Speech, 1920

  • Introduce the document “Why Woman Wants to Vote”, a speech given by Helen Keller in 1920.
  • Share background information: In 1916, Helen Keller spoke at a Chicago Convention, and addressed delegates of “the new Woman’s Party.” She was referring to The National Woman’s Party (NWP), created that same year to focus on the fight for women’s suffrage. In 1920, after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, the NWP went on to advocate for other issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment. The address given below is one that Helen Keller gave in 1920—audience unclear.
  • Preview discussion questions.
  • Read the essay excerpt together as a class.

We demand woman suffrage also because without it women cannot protect themselves and their children. Some people like to imagine that the chivalrous nature of man will constrain him to act humanely towards woman and protect her rights. SOME men do protect some women. We demand that all women have the right to protect themselves. Political power intelligently used, enables the citizen to direct and shape the legal affairs of the state and determine what shall be the relations of human beings to each other, individually and collectively. Without this power, women who do not happen to have a “natural protector” are at the mercy of man-made laws, and experience shows that these laws are often unjust to them.

  • Ask and discuss:
    • What is Keller saying about women’s suffrage?
    • How is gender portrayed in this essay?
    • How do gender, race, class, and other identity markers affect her view of voting rights?
    • What audience is she trying to reach? Do you think she was effective? Why or why not?
    • How does her argument resonate with you today?

4.7 National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Broadside

  • Share background information: The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), founded in 1890, channeled the energy of its two million members into support for a national amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote. While it did not bar women of color from the organization entirely, NAWSA allowed local chapters to exclude black suffragists, and its largely middle-class, white leadership bowed to pressure to segregate the 1913 march on Washington, D.C. NAWSA positioned itself as a ‘moderate’ organization, rejecting ‘radical’ or ‘militant’ tactics like sit-ins and hunger strikes.
  • Preview discussion questions.
  • Read the following excerpt together as a class.

WOMEN IN THE HOME

“We are forever being told that the place for women is in the HOME. Well, so be it. But what do we expect of her in the home? Merely to stay in the home is not enough. She is a failure unless she does certain things for the home. [….]

How Far Can the Mother Control These Things?
She can clean her own rooms, BUT if the neighbors are allowed to live in filth, she cannot keep her rooms from being filled with bad air and smells, or from being infested with vermin.

She can cook her food well, BUT if dealers are permitted to sell poor food, unclean milk or stale eggs, she cannot make the food wholesome for her children. [….]

She can take every care to avoid fire, BUT if the house has been badly built, if the fire– escapes are insufficient or not fire–proof, she cannot guard her children from the horrors of being maimed or killed by fire. [….]

ALONE, she CANNOT make these things right.

WHO or WHAT can? THE CITY can do it – the CITY GOVERNMENT that is elected BY THE PEOPLE, to take care of the interest of THE PEOPLE.
And who decides what the city government shall do?
FIRST, the officials of that government; and,
SECOND, those who elect them. DO THE WOMEN ELECT THEM?
NO, the men do.[….]

In fact, MEN are responsible for the conditions under which the children live, but we hold WOMEN responsible for the results of those conditions. If we hold women responsible for the results, must we not, in simple justice, let them have something to say as to what these conditions shall be? There is one simple way of doing this. Give them the same means that men have. LET THEM VOTE.

Women are, by nature and training, housekeepers. Let them have a hand in the city’s housekeeping, even if they introduce an occasional house–cleaning.”

Broadside created by the National American Woman Suffrage Association
“Women in the Home,” National American Woman Suffrage Association poster, 1915, created by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Text excerpted above.
  • Ask and discuss:
    • What argument does the broadside make about women’s suffrage?
    • How is gender portrayed in the broadside?
    • How might the racial and/or class identity of NAWSA leadership influence this broadside?
    • What audience is this broadside trying to reach? Do you think it was effective? Why or why not?
    • How does this argument resonate with you today?

4.8 Kate Gordon’s Letter

  • Share background information: The Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC) was a suffrage organization formed by white Southern women who favored the expansion of women’s suffrage on a local and state level in order to maintain racist Jim Crow voting restrictions in the South. Kate Gordon was a white Southern socialite and civic reformer who campaigned for women’s suffrage on a state level, but opposed the federal women’s suffrage amendment.
  • Preview discussion questions.
  • Read the letter excerpt together as a class.

This letter was written in response to a letter and donation to the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference from Alva Belmont, a New York suffragist and wealthy socialite. The letters were published side-by-side in the Journal and Tribune newspaper of Knoxville, Tennessee.

“My Dear Mrs. Belmont,
[…]
I am glad that you note you resent the imputation that we southern women do not want to vote. As though we were made of a different sort of clay from the women of the north, east, and west! I have always maintained that there are no women in the United States who should feel the degradation of disenfranchisement so keenly as southern women, for they have felt a special resentment in witnessing their government make their ignorant slaves the political superiors of the white women of the nation.
We know this act was the fortune of war, but the hour for reparation is at hand.
[…]
Cordially and fraternally,
Kate M. Gordon”

“Southern States Given Impetus,” the Journal and Tribune, Knoxville, Tennessee, April 19, 1914

Screenshot of "Southern States Given Impetus," an article in the Journal and Tribune, a Knoxville, Tennessee newspaper.
Screenshot of article in The Journal and Tribune in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1914. Text from the article is excerpted above.
  • Ask and discuss:
    • What is Gordon saying about women’s suffrage?
    • How is gender portrayed in this letter?
    • How do her racial identity and her views of race affect her view of voting rights?
    • What audience is she trying to reach? Do you think she was effective? Why or why not?
    • How does her argument resonate with you? Does her perspective surprise you? Why or why not?

4.9 Assign:

  • It’s your turn to write! Using the graphic organizer, take notes on these three documents and two documents by Helen Keller.
  • Use your notes to write an essay comparing and contrasting their reasons for supporting suffrage.
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