Overview

"The voting school here is memorable for one thing above all others, that is not the lessons taught, nor the politics learned. It is by no means the parliamentary law and usage daily urged upon the women, it is rather, and most abundantly, the amazing interest taken in the great new weapon of the future, now in the hand of woman, the vote, and this vote brings out, from little humble farms, woman of all ages and conditions, and, particularly, it brings out the old gray-haired women whom one would rather expect to see turning in at the Sewing Circle. As Mrs. Schoonmaker praised it in closing, ‘Our supreme effort must be to do for the world, as women voters, what we have done for the home.'" --Hazel Canning, writer for the Boston American, July 9, 1919.

Despite “very little newspaper publicity,” the Citizenship School, suggested by Mary I. Wood of Portsmouth and agreed upon by NHC President Ralph Hetzel, took place from the 8th-12th of July and was a tremendous success. About two-hundred women of all walks of life, from all over New Hampshire and beyond, attended the school to take part in the five-day instruction on how to best use their new voting rights. The women attending boarded at Smith Hall for $2.50 per day (about$38 as of 2021) or with local hosts. Each day would be marked by three, three-hour, sessions—interspersed were scheduled mealtimes, during which attendees were said to studiously “sit debating upon every phase of citizenship […] until far into the night” and even “dream citizenship”  (The Woman Citizen, 7/30/1919).

According to several newspaper accounts, Mary I. Wood – the “dean of the school, a motherly looking, white-haired woman who smiled benignly upon her charges” (Boston Post 7/11/1919)— opened the first session with a speech outlining the importance of the female perspective in government, beginning as follows:

“If women voting means doubling the votes of men, our object is defeated. We must contribute strength and intelligence of our own. There can be no division upon strictly party lines. There must be an aim of good ideals, good men, good government.”

The sessions were not only invigorating, as per the above speech, but practical. Topics discussed during the Tuesday sessions included a survey of town and country government (taught by Nancy Schoonmaker), municipal problems (taught by Professor D. C. Babcock of New Hampshire College), and reconstruction problems after WWI (taught by Huntley N. Spaulding).  The women explored pressing issues of the day, such as the formation of the League of Nations, child labor, the age of consent, the problems of trying to balance work and motherhood, the need for public health services, the ways local police stations profited financially from emprisoning lawbreakers, and gerrymandering. The schedule even included a Republican Night and a Democratic Night, where leaders of the parties educated the women and advertised their respective platforms, "flirting" with them for their votes. The School was intentionally non-partisan yet it offered this information to the women to help them adopt a party of their choosing.  Nonetheless, Schoonmaker cautioned: "Split your ticket, girls. Find out the record of the man and vote accordingly" (Boston American, 7/9/1919).

The gravity and thoroughness with which the women taught and were taught made quite the impression on some onlookers. A cartoonist and a reporter from an unspecified Boston newspaper were sent to the school on the first morning to produce an amusing story about a group of grown women going back to school—an absurd image to the people of 1919. However, in the afternoon they called the city editor to inform them that “there would be no funny story, the quality of thought was something they could not joke about” (CSM,  8/30/1919); "it would be making mockery of reverence" (ARR, 1921). As one writer recalled, "So those who came to ridicule remained to praise" (ARR, 1921).