The Battle Over Suffrage

Erin Fallon:
Louise S. McGehee School (New Orleans, LA) 

Course: U.S. Women's History
Grade Level: 12th grade
Topic: Women in conflict: the battle over Suffrage
Lesson: Women were active on both sides of the suffrage fight.  The rhetoric they employed, whether in support of suffrage or opposed to it, reflected contemporary notions of women’s place in society.

Time: Two 50-minute class periods


  • Suffrage flyers and cartoons in U.S. Suffrage Collection (Box 2, Folder 60), Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
  • Anti-suffrage flyers and cartoons U.S. Suffrage Collection (Box 17, Folder 231, 234), Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
  • Sarah Evans’ Born For Liberty (1997): Chapter 7, “Women and Modernity: 1890-1920.”  


  • Understand why women participated in both the anti suffrage and suffrage movements
  • Identify the arguments employed by both sides and how the arguments reflected thoughts about women’s place in society
  • Develop skills in analytic and synthetic thinking


1.   Introduction:
Students will be asked to reflect on the reading assigned for class, Chapter 7 of Sarah Evans’ Born For Liberty. Discussion will focus especially on the section on “New Life in the Suffrage Movement,” and students will be asked to recount the major episodes of the final fight for suffrage.

2.   Evaluation of suffrage and anti-suffrage materials:
Students will be divided into two groups; one representing the New Orleans chapter of the Women’s Anti-suffrage Association and one the local chapter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  Each group will be given the propaganda produced by their opponents and be charged with the task of answering their opposition’s arguments.  (Responses should be devised for public consumption, i.e. they should be presented in the form of a letter to an editor, a flyer, a cartoon, a sign, a speech, a song, a play, etc.)

Students will be cautioned to “stay in character” as they craft their responses—in other words, their responses must reflect knowledge of the beliefs held by women of the time and take care not to inject contemporary views about women into the debate.

3.   Closure:

Each group will share its response with the class, and then reflect on the experience in a guided discussion. Emphasis will be placed on how the women on both sides of the suffrage movement used contemporary gender ideology to support their position.

4.   Follow-up:
Students will view second half of Ken Burns’ Not For Ourselves Alone (video), which depicts the last years of Stanton and Anthony’s lives and the final phase of the suffrage movement.

Students will demonstrate knowledge of material through participation in class discussions and completion of small and large writing assignments.