The Long & Winding Road to Women’s Rights

Mr 3, 2913 suffrage parade DC

The March 3, 1913 suffrage march in Washington, DC

As Women’s History Month returns in March, 2014, students can learn about the thousands of suffragists who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913 (24 photos). Many of the 500,000 spectators were not supportive of the non-violent protest, injuring 200 marchers and sending 100 of them to the hospital. Last March thousands gathered in Washington, DC to commemorate those marchers who took the struggle for women’s right to vote from the states to the federal government, rallying for a constitutional amendment.

Winning the Right to Vote

Concentrating on the women’s voting rights struggle in the United States, students can learn about Alice Paul and the other suffragists who picketed the White House and were imprisoned (and at times force-fed during hunger strikes) in the years following the 1913 march. The Library of Congress provides a brief video recounting the imprisonment of suffrage leader Lucy Burns  and notes that “Burns served more jail time during her six sentences than any other suffrage prisoner, and she helped instigate hunger strikes to protest the suffragists’ treatment.” The LOC quotes another suffragist on forced feeding:  “The drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and breast. The tube is pushed down twenty inches; [it] must go below the breastbone.”

News of the women’s treatment helped lead to ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. In a brief video made before the 2012 election, people of all ages reflect on the effects of the amendment. The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, which is working to erect a monument to American suffragists, produced the video. For biographical sketches of suffragists, visit the association’s site.  

suffrage imageThe Newseum’s Primary Resources

Students and teachers can register at the Newseum to access resources, including images of primary resources showing women using the First Amendment to push for political rights. The collection of front pages from suffrage journals and city newspapers show the negative response to abuse of women during the 1913 march in Washington from some newspapers, as well as the New York Times’ decision to bury news of the march in a story about Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration preparations. The publications also give students a view of contemporary events surrounding the suffragist movement. 

In March 2014, the Newseum and the AAUW will post a multi-media module, “Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less.”

Women’s History Museum Spans Eras

The National Women’s History Museum hosts an engaging promotional video featuring girls speaking as women who affected history, which could serve as an introduction to Women’s History Month.

For an historical review, the video “NWHM Celebrates Women’s History Month” emphasizes the role that labor organizations played in improving work life, and it ties those early 20th century efforts to the emergence of women’s history studies in the 1970’s. The annual celebration of women’s history began in the Santa Rosa, California schools in 1978 and culminated in 1987 with the US Congress declaring March to be Women’s History Month. Another NWHM video looks over the history of the women’s suffrage movement. Both videos are rather somber.

Also at the National Women’s History Museum site, teachers can register to access several lesson plans, including one about girls whose brave actions changed US history. Biographical sketches of adults are arranged by period and by area of influence. The women’s suffrage timeline reaches back to 1840.

Most of the links on the museum’s resource page are functional, including a Rutgers page displaying the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions from the Woman’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848. Other links: infoplease offers a list of dates when countries allowed women’s suffrage, and provides videos, photo galleries and essays on women’s history and achievements in several fields; be sure to preview the materials. Resources from TimeForKids (watch for a 2014 update) and Education World are classroom friendly.

Women Scientists through History

Sally Ride, the first US woman in space

Sally Ride, the first US woman in space

Other helpful National Women’s History Museum links relate to the 2013 Women’s History Month theme: Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Agnes Scott College provides brief biographies of women in mathematics. The University of Alabama’s Department of Physics & Astronomy offers sketches of women scientists. Watch Women@NASA for Women’s History Month resources, too. The site’s blog highlights outstanding women scientists in a series of Shout Outs along with current activities. Its summary of women in space was last updated in 2012. The Johnson Spaceflight Center maintains biographical sketches of all current astronauts.

In addition to honoring women scientists of the last 100 years, including Nobel Prize winners, the National Women’s History Project’s 2013 Gazette featured student scientists who have achieved recognition as well as student programs run by women’s organizations. The gazette highlights Deepika Kurup, a 14-year-old New Hampshire resident who developed a solar powered water purification jug. In addition, the Gazette reports on PBS’s SciGirls, a show with tween girls enjoying STEM projects, as well as the Girl Scouts’ STEM focus. The NWHP’s 2014 gazette features Women of Character, Courage and Commitment. Both gazettes include extensive shopping guides.

History Centered Resources

Not enough states ratified the Equal Right Amendment by its 1982 deadline.

The Equal Rights Amendment failed to receive ratification by 38 states by its 1982 deadline. Click for details.

Britannica offers free access to its huge collection of 300 Women Who Changed the World. The site features interactive biographies grouped by area of leadership, along with a timeline, topics, primary documents, and videos. Pearson’s Fact Monster provides a variety of timelines along with a series of essays written for students. One looks back to the challenges women faced before the women’s rights movement broadened access to political participation. Another centers on feminism.

Elsewhere, the Library of Congress hosts Women’s History Month for Teachers, with links to several federal agencies. The Census Bureau includes two infographics, on women in the workforce and on income compared to men, in the   2014 Women’s History Month “Facts for Features”  . Students will also find overall stats on employment, education, businesses, and more, including links to more detailed information. presents women’s history through themed collections: reformers, warriors, politicians, scientists, and more.  The White House hosts somewhat longer First Ladies’ biographies with links to presidential libraries.

In 2013, PBS premiered MAKERS: Women Who Make America. The three-hour documentary traces the women’s rights effort decade by decade, recounting advances and failures from 1950 onward. Some of the program’s website video clips may be useful in showing the challenges women faced in the mid 20th century and their efforts to overcome them. PBS provides resources for educators. Teachers may want to preview content.

 Authors Across Content Areas

Plans are underway for another year of author posts at Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History Month. Librarians Margo Tanenbaum, The Fourth Musketeer, and Lisa Taylor, Shelf-employed, share posts from authors (previous years’ content is also available) along with links to Women’s History Month resources. The searchable site includes authors sharing content (Women Invent!) and (Tillie Pierce, a biography of a  teenager at Gettyburg) as well as educators interviewing authors (Mr. Schu interviews author, Shana Corey) and much more.

More resources:

  • Students can access the New York Timesextensive collection of articles, lesson plans, and front pages related to women’s history through the Learning Network blog at no charge.
  • Women’s History Month: Six Lesson Plan Resources for Teachers  is newly updated by Matt Davis at Edutopia.
  • To find Women’s History Month on Twitter, follow the hashtags #wmnhist,  #IWD2014 (International Women’s Day), and #STEMfem. More may pop up during March.
President Obama signs the Fair Pay Act of 2009.

President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.

Photo credits

Front page: A suffragist wearing costume of “Columbia” in front of the Treasury Building, March 3, 1913, Washington, D.C, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-70382

Inez Milholland Boissevain riding a horse during the March 3, 1913 Washington, DC, protest, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-77359

Sally Ride, Photo from NASA

President Obama Signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act in 2009. View the White House video.




Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis co-edits MiddleWeb content and writes our Resource Roundups. In the past century she taught middle grades students, provided human services referrals and publications, wrangled the reference desk in libraries, and wrote.

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