The women’s suffrage movement in the United States leading up the ratification of the 19th Amendment was a progressive time for women. Bold women leaders launched suffrage groups and associations around New England and the US. Some women were pushing for a national amendment, while others were trying for a state-by-state approach to get women voting rights. In NH, where woman suffrage groups began forming in 1868, women had attained the ability to vote for school committees (in 1871) and in school board elections (1878), but their attempts to vote in state and national elections were unsuccessful. In 1903 the state legislature had supported women's suffrage, but the ratification of the right was defeated in a popular vote by NH's male voters. Yet by the summer of 1919, after over 50 years of advocating for their suffrage, NH women were about to gain the right to vote, as the national 19th Amendment's passage was on the horizon. It had passed the federal legislature in June of 1919 and would be ratified in NH two months after the end of the School, on September 10, 1919.
We asked the question: where did the idea for a women's citizenship school come from? We found our answer in the beginning of the early 20th century, when women suffragists were anticipating their right to vote and the US was emphasizing citizenship education after its victory in WWI; we also discovered it lay in the innovations of the women of NH and the President of NH College.
The First Citizenship School
The NH College School for Citizenship appears to be the brainchild of Mrs. Mary Inez Wood. As the country was in the process of passing and ratifying the 19th Amendment, it became clear that women should be prepared to use their new right by understanding the principles of government, politics, policy, and general "citizenship." Mrs. Nancy Schoonmaker of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association had begun giving a series of lectures to women about the basics of government and had been mailing out curricula for women around her state. Mrs. Wood reported that she had said, "Let's have a school for citizenship!" She further explained that "The idea sprung into existence one Friday evening when Miss Martha S. Kimball, president of the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association, Miss Edna Wright, organizer of that association, and myself were discussing citizenship courses for the various local suffrage leagues. The suggestion seemed so good we determined to consult President Hetzel of New Hampshire College about the feasibility of such a school and the possibility of holding it at Durham" (Arizona Republican 1/29/1920). As the Dearborn Independent (11/8/1919) described, President Hetzel of NHC "is an Oregon man, used to the fearsome sight of women going to the polls, and he welcomed the idea, and invited the women to come to school in their own college." They invited Schoonmaker, and the well-known speaker and attorney Mrs. Antoinette Funk of Chicago, along with other prominent suffragists from New England and the country. Newspaper announcements for the NHC School for Citizenship in the Portsmouth Herald (6/25/1919) and the Manchester Union (7/3/1919) instructed potential attendees to write President Hetzel a letter for admission.
NH College and the Citizenship School
Ralph D. Hetzel was the president of the co-educational NH College during the School for Citizenship program. He was known for his strong beliefs in land-grant schools and his efforts to expand the campus by building additional dormitories for men and women. President Hetzel’s administration began alongside America's declaration of war against Germany; during his tenure, NHC, like many public colleges in the US, opened its doors to vocational army training camps. While barracks were being built on the NHC campus, young students and soldiers began to share a sense of identity, motivation, and morale. "They were bound together by wartime ideals of what it meant to be American" (Price, 2013, 8). Even after WWI, many schools began to introduce courses focused on political science, civic duty, and nationhood. This new movement that stressed “America’s place in the world” may have influenced the startup of the School of Citizenship for women. It seems that as part of his forward-looking vision for NHC, land-grant schools, women's education, and citizenship, President Hetzel was proud to host the first School for Citizenship for women in the country.
Impact of World War I on Higher Education, Citizenship, and NH College
Leading up to WWI, the US military explored various sources, particularly American universities, to recruit men for the war. The schools were losing student enrollment in the war effort, causing them to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to let their students finish school and suggesting that educated men would aid in post-war reconstruction. As a compromise, in 1918 President Wilson issued Order 15, allowing military programs and higher education to combine for the war effort, resulting in vocational training camps hosted at universities (Price 2013). There were costs and benefits of the camps. Men could enroll in schools hosting camps as a safer alternative to being drafted and sent directly overseas to the front lines. As a result, universities, especially schools which specialized in technical fields, could increase their enrollment by opening up their campuses to aid in the war effort. New Hampshire College (NHC), being an agricultural school, was losing students and money; therefore, NHC hosted its own vocational training camps for young men to receive an education before going to war. NHC promoted its camp as a program to create the ideal citizen where men learned skills to “assist the larger community" (Price 2013, 14). These efforts led to university-wide focus on patriotism, civic duty, and political and foreign affairs creating new citizenship courses.
Military barracks being built for the vocational training camps at NHC in 1918 (now the location of the UNH Memorial Union Building)(Jillian Price, 2013).
The Great War, Citizenship and Women's Suffrage
The effects of WWI led to a new sense of citizenship in America. During the war, women had to take over some of men's work and responsibilities, thereby proving their abilities and their service to their country. As men pushed to receive college education, women made their own advances. Women suffragists used the timing of WWI as a strategy to press for their right to vote and to participate in all aspects of society. As speaker Marjorie Shuler stated at the School: “The problems of reconstruction [from war] face men and women today as they did 60 years ago. But the women who helped in this last war will never return to the social round as did the women of 60 years ago. They see national needs and they want to give national service" (Boston Post 7/10/1919). The citizenship schools, started at New Hampshire College and soon thereafter recreated by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and its later incarnation as the League of Women Voters, were ways to both educate women and prove to the men around them that they were fully qualified citizens. Even before the School, as the war was still on, NAWSA began providing citizenship education for women through publications and meetings in hope of preparing them to be competent voters. Woman suffragists argued that civic study would benefit in the “home-front mobilization.” Not only were women dealing with “affairs at home,” the nation was being “left in the hands of conscious, patriotic citizens” (Marino, "Ballots, Bandages," 41-45).
Citizenship training became a way to show the country that women were full citizens, capable of handling the power to vote in a responsible, reasonable, and informed way. "The ultimate goal of [women's] citizenship education was to portray American women not as separate partners to men who could add something different to the electorate or even justify their right to political equality based on earlier arguments about sameness between the sexes. Instead, political training for women aimed to show in a new way that women could match men in politics and were viable potential, untapped voters ready for full citizenship” (Marino, "Ballots, Bandages," 44). Women citizens would be neither radical feminists advocating sameness with men, nor would they be niche voters concerned only with women's issues; they would bring their perspective and location but understand all aspects of citizenship.
Racial Inequalities within the Women's Suffrage Movement
Women of many backgrounds believed in their right to vote and worked hard to achieve it. Before the Civil War, most of the suffragists were also abolitionists. However, after the Civil War, as Black men were being given the right to vote with the 15th Amendment, there was a rift among suffragists. Some white women suffragists were angry that Black men would be able to vote before them, and did not want the Amendment passed unless it included women. Some of the most well-known suffragists, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, not only did not support the 15th Amendment as it was, but unfortunately also expressed various racist sentiments. Other suffragists did not think the Amendment would gain enough support to include all Black men as well as all women; leaders like Frederick Douglass said the Amendment should pass for Black men, and then suffragists should work towards including all women. This difference of opinion caused a split and the suffragists formed two main groups: the National Woman Suffrage Association, not supporting the Amendment, and the American Woman Suffrage Association, which did. In 1890, these associations joined back together as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). There were other nation-wide suffrage groups, and most states had state groups, but the most powerful of the state groups were usually affiliated with NAWSA.
However, the merging of the suffrage groups into NAWSA did not end racism within the movement. In fact, as Martha S. Jones has stated in her book Vanguard, "racism ran through organizations like NAWSA" and there were "problems of marginalization or exclusion that plagued the Black women in these organizations." Out of "fear of offending southern suffragists" (Women's History Museum website) and in an effort to gain support for women's voting rights in different states, NAWSA allowed each state to determine membership in the group, which enabled the southern states to exclude women of color. The prioritization of white women led to other acts of exclusion towards Black women, such as in the infamous 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. in which Black women were told to walk separately from and behind white women (and where Ida B. Wells determinedly walked with her Illinois delegation). White suffragist leaders also refused to add names of Black women to the Declaration of the Rights of Women of the United States, and they often rejected admission or collaboration in many of their other clubs and organizations.
Although some Black women remained in predominantly white suffrage groups, many Black women suffragists started their own clubs. The journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, with Belle Squire, founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first Black women's suffrage association in the United States, starting in 1913 out of Chicago. Unlike many white women who opposed or were indifferent to voting rights, most Black women supported the right to vote. Voting rights would, among other things, "help end their sexual exploitation, promote their educational opportunities, and protect those who were wage earners" (Illinois Women's Suffrage Blog).
It is important to mention that even after the 19th Amendment was passed, some groups of women did not get the right to vote; for example, some indigenous women were unable to vote until the 1970s. Although Black women technically won the right to vote in 1920, many places attempted to prevent them from exercising their rights, requiring the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. Unfortunately, some states continue to suppress voters of color, even to this day.
Race and Class at the NHC School
Throughout our research, we looked for any details or information concerning the diversity of the NHC School for Citizenship, and indeed of the NH Equal Suffrage Association (the state chapter of NAWSA, also sometimes called the NH Woman Suffrage Association) as well as any other suffragists in the state. Most of the leaders of the School, both from NH and from other states, were affiliated with NAWSA or NHESA. Once women's suffrage was assured, in 1919, NAWSA transformed into the League of Women Voters. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find evidence that the NHC School was not attended solely by white women. Although NH is a very "white state," there were women of color in the state and in the Seacoast area. We have not located them at the School, but we continue our research. To note, at least one of the women suffrage leaders involved with the School, Mrs. Antoinette Funk, appears to have taken a stance on racial divisions. Newspapers record that she attended a meeting with the group that soon became Chicago's Alpha Suffrage Club as it was being formed. Mrs. Funk was reported to have "urged the negro women to take an active part in the fight for equal suffrage" (Birmingham [AL] News 1/6/1913). We have not found other relevant information about either the students or the leaders of the School.
Although newspaper accounts indicate that the students at the School came from all walks of life, one of the speakers at the School implied that the students did not include the poor working woman. Professor James Richardson of Dartmouth College stated, "The great pity of this first school for women voters is the absence of the woman worker, the very poor woman. She should be here" (Boston American 7/12/1919).