Remembering and forgetting Delaware's suffrage story
After 1920, Delaware’s former suffragists turned their attention to other activities, with many white women joining the new League of Women Voters. Not until the 1940s did Mary de Vou produce a version of the state’s suffrage story, a chapter composed for historian H. Clay Reed’s 1947 compilation, Delaware: A History of the First State. Much as she emphasized the work of her organization, the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, she gave short shrift to the activities of the Delaware chapter of the National Woman’s Party. She completely left out the activism of Delaware’s African American suffragists, even though she had recorded it in 1914 for a press release.
De Vou’s correspondence with Reed produced a couple of lively anecdotes, including Carrie Chapman Catt’s remembrance of a “wretched” visit to Delaware and de Vou’s own recollection of Florence Bayard Hilles’s entry into suffrage activism.
For “Celebration 75,” the 75th anniversary of the suffrage amendment in 1995, the Delaware Heritage Commission and the Delaware Humanities Forum joined other agencies in sponsoring a variety of commemorative activities. Perhaps the biggest undertaking was First Vote, a musical play recounting the Delaware ratification struggle in the spring of 1920. Written by Joyce Hill Stoner and Scott Mason and based on historian Carol E. Hoffecker’s research, the play was performed around the state. Today, a 45-minute version can be found on YouTube. Just type “First Vote Delaware” into the search engine.
Remembering and forgetting are two sides of the historical coin. As we mark the suffrage centennial and note aspects of Delaware’s history that earlier generations forgot to remember, we seek to avoid their errors and omissions, and hope that future generations will excuse our own.
Covering the suffrage story from 1848 through the early 1920s, the History of Woman Suffrage eventually encompassed six thick volumes. By focusing on the mainstream suffrage movement, the volumes told a partial and incomplete story that minimized the work of the American Woman Suffrage Association (1869-1890) and excluded most African American suffragists’ activities. Nevertheless, historians appreciate the work’s importance to preserving a record of long decades of suffrage activism.
Volume III included a report from Delaware’s Mary Ann Sorden Stuart (1828-1893) and an account of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s and Susan B. Anthony’s 1881 testimony before the Delaware General Assembly. Volume IV contained a report from Martha Churchman Cranston (1846-1927), first President of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, founded in 1895.
- National American Woman Suffrage Association. History of Woman Suffrage. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1881-1922. 6 volumes. Editors:
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) – Volumes 1-3
- Susan B. (Susan Brownell) Anthony (1820-1906) – Volumes 1-3
- Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898) – Volumes 1-3
- Ida Husted Harper (1851-1931) – Volumes 4-6