The Long & Winding Road to Women’s Rights

Mr 3, 2913 suffrage parade DC

The March 3, 1913 suffrage march in Washington, DC

 Updated February, 2017

As Women’s History Month returns in March, 2017, 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 nonviolent protest, injuring 200 marchers and sending 100 of them to the hospital.

During March 2013 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. That march was dwarfed by the multiple marches by women and their supporters around the world on January 21, 2017.

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.

Lucy Burns during one of her incarcerations

Lucy Burns during one of her incarcerations 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 Library of Congress 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 as well as changing tactics in following years helped lead to ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. For example,

The year 1915 marked a whole new level of activism for the suffrage movement in the U.S. Suffragist used new strategies like casting the Women’s Liberty Bell, creating the torch of Freedom, and launching a flotilla of woman suffrage boats in New York Harbor. Still, male voters in all four prominent eastern states (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) rejected the idea of women having the right to vote. It is inspiring to note however, that just two years later, in 1917, New Yorkers launched yet another battle that succeeded. It was a victory that gave momentum to the national amendment just three years later. …from The National Women’s History Project’s 2015 Gazette 

Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business “The 2017 theme for National Women’s History Month honors women who have successfully challenged the role of women in both business and the paid labor force. Women have always worked, but often their work has been undervalued and unpaid.” National Women’s History Project

The 2016 theme was Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government. Looking over the brief bios of women being recognized in 2016 – from Puerto Rican Isabel Gonzalez to Senator Barbara Mikulski – will give students a glimpse of the range of leaders’ accomplishments from the 1800’s until today. In 2015 the NWHP celebrated 19th and 20th century women whose work ranged from historian to musician. The NWHP website provides an essay outlining the development of Women’s History Month beginning in the 1970’s.

In a brief video made before the 2012 election, people of all ages reflected on the effects of the 19th amendment. The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, which produced the video, hosts biographical sketches of suffragists.

votes-for-womenThe Newseum’s Primary Resources

Students and teachers can register at the Newseum to access 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 give students a view of contemporary events surrounding the suffragist movement. The Newseum also hosts a multi-media module Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less. 

Women’s History Museum Spans Eras 

whm clip suffragistsThe 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 from state to state. Both videos use contemporary images, photos and film.

Also at the National Women’s History Museum site, teachers can access several lesson plans, including one with brief bios written by students 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.

Many of the links on the museum’s resource page are functional, though the links to Civil War women, kid’s lessons and women in sports are defunct. Among those worth visiting: infoplease offers a list of dates when countries allowed women’s suffrage, and (updated link) provides videos, photo galleries and essays on women’s history and achievements in several fields and notes International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8 since 1911; be sure to preview the materials.

For a look at the paucity of education opportunities for women in America’s first centuries to the legislation and educators that bolstered them in the 20th century, visit this timeline from the National Women’s History Museum which also hosts selected biographies of education leaders. The PBS program “Only a Teacher” offers a more detailed timeline reaching into the 21st century concerns. The program includes several women in its section on Schoolhouse Pioneers.

Women Scientists through History

Sally Ride, the first US woman in space

Sally Ride, the first US woman in space

AAAS’s Science NetLinks hosts a Women’s History Month collection which highlights women in science as well as puts women in the context of science. Look down to “Tools” for most of the middle grades resources, including 4000 years of women scientists and mathematicians in brief sketches from the University of Alabama’s Department of Physics & Astronomy and 20 recent women leaders from NASA. The Biography Channel provides sketches of varying length on well-known women scientists, many of them American and some with videos.

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. On page 3 the gazette highlights Deepika Kurup, a then 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. NWHP’s gazettes include extensive shopping guides.

History Centered Resources

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

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

Students who want to understand the place of women in military endeavors can start with Women Warriors from 3500 BC to the 20th Century, a website by Nicky Saunders. The brief descriptions Saunders has gathered by century not only give a very wide overview of women fighters but also can serve as a jumping off point for further study.

To learn about women in the US military, students can study the resources of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial with a timelinehighlights of women making history serving the US, and an archive of brief essays ranging from actions by minority groups to outstanding individuals. A 2011 page of statistics lists women serving in each branch, the number who fought and died in previous wars and actions. Students can learn how to gather oral histories and read a collection of them.

Elsewhere, the Library of Congress hosts Women’s History Month for Teachers, with links to several federal agencies. In the Census Bureau’s  2016 Women’s History Month “Facts for Features students will find overall stats on employment, education, businesses, and more, including links to more detailed information. (Feb. 17, 2017: The 2017 statistics should be online soon.) presents women’s history through themed collections: reformers, warriors, politicians, scientists, and more.  The White House hosts somewhat longer First Ladies’ biographies. (Feb. 17, 2017: Some White House resources are under construction.)

In 2013, PBS premiered MAKERS: Women Who Make America. With a 2014 season, the documentary series traces the women’s rights effort decade by decade, recounting advances and failures from 1950 onward. Some of the program’s website  clips, featuring a wide range of events and individuals from Mae Jemison to Michelle Rhee, may be useful in showing the challenges women faced in the mid 20th century and their efforts to overcome them.  Full episodes are available for purchase. PBS provides resources for educators. Teachers may want to preview content.

A Look at Women in the Arts

To integrate the arts into literacy, visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts which opened in Washington, DC, in 1987. In addition to the See for Yourself cards featuring images and general questions (including a collection of Madonnas), take a look at ABC- arts, books, creativity. That curriculum for fourth and fifth graders offers a series of detailed lessons, each featuring a medium, which together can result in students creating their own art books. The curriculum could be a project to plan during a break or over the summer.


President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, Jan. 2009.


More resources:

  • Students can access the New York Times’ extensive collection of articles, lesson plans, and front pages related to women’s history through the Learning Network blog at no charge.
  • To find Women’s History Month on Twitter, follow #wmnhist#STEMfem. Also, @Feministory. More may pop up during March. Among the Pinterest collections is one from the Smithsonian.

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. 2016 was the centennial of her birth.

24 photos: 100 Years Ago, The 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade by Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, March 1, 2013.

Sally Ride, Photo from NASA

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

Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

1 Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *