Discover a forgotten chapter of women’s history in “Black Women’s Suffrage”

By Mitch Farish | March 18, 2022

The movement to extend voting rights to African American men after the Civil War was immediately accompanied by a push to expand the goal to include women. However, it would take both Black and white women over half a century more of struggle to finally secure the right to vote with passage of the 19th Amendment. The Black Women’s Suffrage resource explores the twin burden faced by Black women in the suffragist movement who not only fought against gender bias that denied women the right to vote, but against racism which denied people of color even the most basic of human rights. It was a fight for civil rights, a fight against lynching, and often a fight against the racism directed at them from within the Suffrage Movement itself.

Black Women’s Suffrage draws together primary resources from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions, providing documentation on women such as Mary Church Terrell and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, whose critical role at the forefront of the campaign for women’s rights are too often forgotten.

You can search the database in a variety of ways; and the links will lead you to multiple primary documents of the era.


Follow events from the founding of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 through 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. See racial fault lines develop within the movement early on, as when Elizabeth Cady Stanton used racist language to object to the extension of the franchise to Black men and not to women. In 1865 she wrote, “In fact, it is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than of a degraded, ignorant Black one.”

Key Figures

Learn how Charlotte Vandine Forten and her three daughters helped found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the first biracial organization of female abolitionists in the United States. Learn also how in the 1960s civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer overcame being fired from her job and having shots fired into the house where she was staying to register to vote in Mississippi. For her continued activism, Hamer was arrested and severely beaten, suffering injuries from which she never fully recovered.


Cover page for "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases" (1892), the first pamphlet by Ida B. Wells dedicated to exposing lynching.

Study featured historical collections such as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Papers, including the autobiography, diaries, articles, speeches, accounts, newspaper clippings, and photographs of the teacher, journalist, and anti-lynching activist. Wells-Barnett was born enslaved in 1862 and was educated at Shaw University (now Rust College) and Fisk University. As a student in 1884, she fiercely resisted being put off a train for refusing to comply with Jim Crow seating and won a small settlement. In 1892, when three of her acquaintances who worked in a successful Black-owned grocery were lynched, Wells-Barnett’s investigations found that not only were accusations against victims always false, lynching was essentially a tool used to preserve white supremacy and restrict upward mobility of African Americans. She believed that enfranchisement was key to ending lynching and winning civil rights and was a passionate proponent of Black women’s suffrage. In 2020, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize special citation “[f]or her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

Other primary source sets from the Digital Public Library of America cover topics such as:

  • The American Abolitionist Movement
  • Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching Activism
  • Women’s Suffrage: Campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment
  • Fannie Lou Hamer and the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi
  • The Black Power Movement
  • The Equal Rights Amendment

You can find this and other resources on women’s history in the Library’s A-Z Databases list!