About the Author

Nate Sleeter is a research assistant professor at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media where he oversees educational projects. He is also a former K-12 teacher. 

Native Women and Suffrage - Beyond the 19th Amendment: A Guide for Pre-Service Teachers

What is it?

Women’s suffrage is a commonly-taught topic in U.S. history and the textbook narrative follows a familiar pattern: the topic often begins with Seneca Falls in 1848 and ends with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. While these were both important events, one way historians ask new questions about the past is by asking whether a topic’s generally accepted beginning and ending are actually the most useful for understanding the topic. Historians call this “periodization”. Sometimes it’s useful to include what happened before the time period and sometimes it's useful to consider what happened later. Along these lines, historians of women's suffrage like Cathleen Cahill have researched the contributions of Black women, Native women, and other women of color to the cause of women's suffrage. In Dr. Cahill’s book Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement, she notes that for many of these women the ratification of the 19th amendment was a step toward getting the right to vote but it was not sufficient to allow all women to vote. Additional obstacles included Jim Crow laws in the South that disenfranchised Black and Mexican women, federal laws that made Native people wards of the state, and immigration laws that prevented Chinese women from becoming citizens. By pulling back and considering a longer period of time, students and teachers can see the broader movement to secure the vote and better understand the history of suffrage.

Key points:

  • The activity outlined here will take one 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods. It is appropriate for a high school U.S. history classroom, but can be modified for a variety of learners.
  • Students will analyze, interpret, and evaluate primary sources.
  • Students will learn about how not all women received the right to vote with the 19th amendment and how Native, Black, Latin American, and Asian women both participated in the struggle for suffrage and incorporated that struggle into efforts to gain rights for their communities.

Approach to Topic

Examining women’s suffrage through the contributions of Native, Black, Latin American, and Asian women not only provides a fuller and more inclusive account of this important event in U.S. history, it also adds to students’ understanding of the history of race in the United States. For example, in the case of Native Americans, their depiction in U.S. history textbooks too often suffers from what Native scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., called “the ‘cameo’ theory of history” where Native people briefly appear “on stage” only to then disappear from a narrative that is centered around the activities of European Americans. By incorporating Native people throughout our study of U.S. history, we can avoid this “cameo” effect and communicate to students that Native people have been a part of American history from the beginning to the present day. For other people of color too in U.S. history, their actions and activities are often only touched upon in textbook sections that are isolated from the rest of U.S. history. For every major event in U.S. history, a wide variety of Americans from different racial backgrounds participated, often in important roles.  As Cahill writes, on these suffragist activists:

Their political awakenings emerged from their engagement with the concerns of their own communities as well as their anti-racist activism, fights for justice, and struggles for sovereignty and nation-building. They saw the campaign for women’s right to vote as addressing some of the specific concerns of their communities; they also
saw it as a means of finding allies in other causes.

Cahill highlights the 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington, DC as an event that brought together women suffragists from a variety of backgrounds to advocate for the vote. The parade took place on March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Have students read this summary from the National Park Service about the 1913 parade: https://www.nps.gov/articles/woman-suffrage-procession1913.htm

When they are done, ask the class:

  • What was the parade trying to accomplish?  
  • How did they group themselves?
  • What obstacles did the marchers face?
  • How were Black and Native women were represented in the parade?  

Primary source activity

Provide students with links to the primary sources below. Ask them to choose one of the sources, and add to their responses to the questions above with observations about their source.

1913 Suffrage Parade
Primary sources:
Official program woman suffrage procession. Washington, D. C. March 3, 1913. | Library of Congress

Head of suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., Mar. 3, 1913 | Library of Congress

“Fifteen Thousand Women to March for Suffrage,” The sun. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 28 April 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1912-04-28/ed-1/seq-57/> (Mentions Mabel Lee)

"Home Makers," Suffrage Parade | Library of Congress

[College section of the March 3, 1913, suffrage parade in Washington, D.C.] | Library of Congress

Woman suffrage parade, Wash., D.C. | Library of Congress

Pro-Suffrage Activists
Below are profiles of women’s suffrage reformers who marched in the 1913 parade. These women wanted the 19th amendment to pass and for restrictions on women voting to end, but that was not enough to secure the vote for all of them. As a result, their activism did not end in 1920. Along with each reformer is a brief biographical sketch that details causes for which the individuals advocated before and after 1920.. Each profile also contains several primary sources for students to examine so they can learn more about the individual.

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin was born in 1863 on Ojibwe land in present-day North Dakota. She attended public schools in Minnesota and eventually graduated from Washington College of law. Baldwin used her status as a lawyer to advocate for Native issues. From 1904 to 1932 she worked for the U.S. federal government’s Office of Indian Affairs overseeing government contracts to reservations. She joined the Society of American Indians after it was formed in 1911. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Native women like Baldwin were not automatically granted the right to vote as they were not considered U.S. citizens.

Primary Sources
Mrs. Marie L. Baldwin ,1914

Mrs. Marie L. Baldwin, 1914

GRETCHEN SMITH, “INDIAN COLLECTION WORK OF 30 YEARS: Mrs. Baldwin, Chippewa,” The Evening Star, April 15, 1929


Gertrude Simmons Bonnin/ Zitkála-Šá

Zitkála-Šá (pronounced Zeet-KA-la-sha) was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1876. A Yankton Dakota Sioux, Zitkála-Šá like many thousands of Native children at the time was also forced to attend a boarding school far away from her home. At eight years old, Zitkála-Šá left Yankton and her family to attend the Indiana Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana over 700 miles away.

In her life, Zitkála-Šá rose to prominence as a musician, writer, and political advocate. An accomplished violinist, she performed at the White House for President William McKinley in 1900 and as a soloist at the Paris Exposition that same year. A prolific writer, Zitkála-Šá’s presented depictions of American Indians that emphasized family and community in books such as American Indian Stories and presented her own experiences in personal essays for Harper’s Monthly and The Atlantic Monthly. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Native women like Zitkála-Šá were not automatically granted the right to vote as they were not considered U.S. citizens.

Primary Sources
“She is Watching Congress,” Evening Public Ledger, February 22, 1921 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1921-02-22/ed-1/seq-20/

“Sioux Princess Closely Watches Indian Welfare,” The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, February 26, 1921 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86058226/1921-02-26/ed-1/seq-15/

Maryland Suffrage Sews, June 15, 1918



Carrie Williams Clifford

Carrie Williams Cliffordwas born and raised in Ohio. She graduated from an integrated high school in Columbus, Ohio and worked as a teacher and for her mothers hair styling business. Clifford published two books of poetry, Race Rhymes and The Widening Light. 

Clifford helped found the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women in 1900 and served as its first president. She advocated for the rights of women and for the rights of Black people. A close friend of W.E.B. Du Bois, Clifford recruited Black women to join the Niagara Movement, the organization that would become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1912. Four years after participating in the Suffrage Parade in Washington, Clifford marched with the NAACP in New York City in what was known as the “Silent Protest Parade” on July 18, 1917. The demonstration protested against violence against Black Americans, specifically the East St. Louis Massacre earlier that month. Clifford wrote a poem to commemorate the march: https://scalar.lehigh.edu/harlemwomen/silent-protest-parade After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Clifford would have been able to vote in her native Ohio, but in many southern states Jim Crow laws effectively prevented Black men and Black women from voting until the 1960s.

Primary Sources:

“Mrs. Carrie Clifford Spoke Right Out in Meeting,” The broad ax. [volume] (Salt Lake City, Utah), 02 Sept. 1905. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024055/1905-09-02/ed-1/seq-1/>

(image)“Author of Rare Book of Poems,” Franklin's paper the statesman. (Denver, Colo.), 13 Jan. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91052311/1912-01-13/ed-1/seq-6/>

(image) “Mrs. Clifford Reelected,” The colored American. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 13 Aug. 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83027091/1904-08-13/ed-1/seq-14/>

Carrie Williams Clifford, “Marching to Conquest,” 1911

Marching to Conquest

We are battling for the right with purpose strong and true;
'Tis a mighty struggle, but we've pledged to dare and do;
Pledged to conquer evil and we'll see the conflict thro'
Marching and marching to conquest.

All the noble things of life we'll teach our girls and boys,
Warn them of its pitfalls and reveal its purest joys,
Counsel, guide and keep them from the evil that destroys
As we go marching to conquest.

Loving confidence and trust must mark our intercourse,
Harmony and unity will our success enforce ;
Seeking guidance from the Lord of good, the boundless source,
As we go marching to conquest.

Come and join our anthem then and raise a mighty shout,
Sing it with such fervor as will put our foes to rout,
Sing it with conviction strong, dispelling every doubt,
As we go marching to conquest.

Women, when our work is o'er and we to rest have gone.
May our efforts doubled, trebled, still go sweeping on.
And the voices of millions swell the volume of our song.
As they go marching to conquest.

Chorus :
Hurrah, hurrah, we'll shout the jubilee;
Hurrah, hurrah, we'll set the captives free,
Ignorance, distrust and hate at our approach shall flee.
  Marching and marching to conquest.


Nina Otero-Warren

Nina Otero-Warren was born to a wealthy and prominent Spanish-speaking family in present-day New Mexico in 1881. College educated, Otero-Warren was briefly married to U.S. army officer Rawson Warren, but they divorced after two years. She never remarried and instead became an important figure in local politics in Albuquerque for over 50 years. In 1917, she became the head of the New Mexico chapter of the Congressional Union, which would become the National Woman’s Party. Otero-Warren pushed the party to publish suffrage literature in Spanish as well as English to reach the largest number of people in the American Southwest. From 1918 to 1929, Otero-Warren served as the Superintendent of Public Schools in Santa Fe County and in this role resisted efforts to impose English-only education and also publicly criticized the conditions of the county’s Indian boarding schools. 

In 1921, only a year after the 19th Amendment was ratified, Otero-Warren ran for Congress. She won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Representative, but lost in what was a close election.


Primary Sources

Adelina Otero-Warren | Library of Congress


“Mrs. Otero-Warren Equipment for Service in the U.S. Congress,” The Clayton news. (Clayton, N.M.), 27 Oct. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn93061573/1922-10-27/ed-1/seq-4/>

“Picturesque Family History Adds Interest to Race for Congress by Mrs. Otero-Warren.” The Clayton news. (Clayton, N.M.), 29 Sept. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn93061573/1922-09-29/ed-1/seq-4/>


Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was born in Guangzhou, China in 1897. When Lee was nine-years-old, she won an academic scholarship to study in New York City where her father, a missionary, was already living. Living in Chinatown and attending school at the Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn, Lee became involved with activism as a teenager participating, on horseback, in her first suffrage parade in 1912. Lee attended Barnard College and wrote essays for the college’s The Chinese Students’ Monthly one of which was titled “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage.” When the 19th Amendment was ratified, Lee herself was not still able to vote because the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented any Chinese person from becoming a U.S. citizen. Lee earned her PhD in economics from Columbia University and published an economic history of China in 1921.  

Primary Sources
“Chinese Girl Wants to Vote,” New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 13 April 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1912-04-13/ed-1/seq-3/>

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Excerpt from “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage” The Chinese Student Monthly, Barnard College, May 1914.

I once heard Professor Kirchway of Columbia say that although scientists are always
telling us that in the midst of life we are in death, we are not as apt to realize it as
much as that while in the midst of life we are in the woman suffrage question. And it
is a fact that no matter where we go we cannot escape hearing about woman
suffrage. Yet there is hardly a question more misunderstood or that has more
misapplications. So manifold are its misconceptions that it has come to be a by-­‐word
suitable for every occasion. For instance, if when in company one should wish to
scramble out of an embarrassing situation, or his more fortunate brother should
wish to be considered witty, all that either would have to do would be to mention
woman suffrage, and they may be sure of laughter and merriment in response.

The reason for this is that the idea of woman suffrage at first stood for something
abnormal, strange and extraordinary, and so has finally become the word for
anything ridiculous. The idea that women should ever wish to have or be anything
more than their primitive mothers appears at first thought to be indeed tragic
enough to be comic; but if we sit down and really think it over, throwing aside all
sentimentalism, we find that it is nothing more than a wider application of our ideas
of justice and equality. We all believe in the idea of democracy; woman suffrage or
the feminist movement (of which woman suffrage is a fourth part) is the application
of democracy to women.

Suggested activity: Reframe the story
After students have read through the textbook account of women’s suffrage, distribute the sources and brief biographical sketches of the women’s suffrage reformers listed above. Prompt the students to take special note of each reformer’s activities before and after the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. Place them in groups where each group has a mix of students who learned about a different reformer. In groups, have them draft new text for a textbook entry on women's suffrage that provides a new timeline for the topic. Questions they should consider as they write their entry:

  • What dates are the most important to emphasize? Do they need a timeline to communicate the order of events?
  • What primary sources should they use as part of the text?
  • What should the title of their textbook section be?

General Tips for Teaching Controversial Subjects

  • Center activities on primary sources. Primary sources are tangible evidence that allow students to engage directly with history. These primary sources in particular were preserved and digitized by the Library of Congress because they were deemed important to the history of the United States.
  • Discussion and analysis of these sources can be wide ranging, but within each class those discussions can always be turned back to the source itself.
  • The sources are also, by definition, only pieces of a puzzle. They bring us closer to understanding the past but there is always room for doubt and uncertainty.  
  •  Questions, Observations, and Reflections should come from students. These are primarily student-directed learning activities. It is the instructor's role to create a space for inquiry and empower students to drive the inquiry.
  •  It may help to remind students at the outset that it is normal for different individuals to come to different conclusions, even when we are looking at the same sources. Further, it would be strange if we all agreed completely on our interpretations. This can normalize the strong reactions that can come up and enables educators to discuss the goal of historical research, which is to hopefully go beyond the realm of individual  perspective to access a fuller understanding of the past that takes multiple perspectives into account.
  • Teaching historical topics that involve violence and other trauma can be traumatic for some students as well. Providing students with previews of what content will be covered and space to process their emotions can be helpful. The following video series from the University of Minnesota contains further tips for teaching potentially traumatic topics: https://extension.umn.edu/trauma-and-healing/historical-trauma-and-cultural-healing.