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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
The Alabama Constitution of 1901 Unit

Lesson 2: Petticoat Power!

1. Background information for teachers:

 

While the Constitutional Convention of 1901 debated how best to restrict suffrage among adult males, a group of Alabama women in the Huntsville area petitioned the delegates to grant adult females the right to vote. Although largely a national movement, a state women's suffrage club had been increasingly active since its 1892 formation. Supported by literature and a petition from Elizabeth Cady Stanton's and Susan B. Anthony's National American Woman Suffrage Association, the president of the Alabama auxiliary was allowed to address the 1901 Convention.

 

A subsequent vote on including a women's suffrage provision failed passage by a four-to-one margin. The fact that four states in the U.S. allowed women equal voting rights as men swayed few delegates, most of whom accepted the prevailing notion about politics being unsuited for women. Not a few probably agreed with the sentiments of delegate (and future U.S. Senator) Tom Heflin that the whole idea was the work of "a few cranks strolling over the state."

 

With the defeat of their suffrage proposal in 1901, the women's suffrage club died. It would be reborn in 1910, but with little success over the next decade. Alabama women gained the right to vote only in 1920 when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states (not including Alabama).

 

2. Learning Objectives:
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

    1. Identify some of the women who were prominent in the women's suffrage movement.

     

    2. Define an editorial and discuss its purpose.

     

    3. Synthesize a letter of response using historical background.

3. Suggested Activities:

    1. Provide a copy of Document 1, the letter from Carrie Chapman Catt, and Document 2, the editorial comments from The Woman's Journal publication to each student.

     

    2. Ask the students to use the general suggestions for analyzing a written document while studying the letter.

     

    3. Ask students the following questions:

      a. Do you recognize any of the names on the letterhead of the letter?

       

      b. Describe the roles of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Carrie Chapman Catt in the national women's suffrage movement.

       

      c. Read the editorial column found in "The Woman's Journal" publication. What is the purpose of an editorial? Do you agree or disagree with the points that the editor made? Why?

       

      d. The property of a wife could be used to determine a man's eligibility to vote in the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Do you believe this to be fair? Why or why not?

       

    4. Ask the students to write a letter of response to Carrie Chapman Catt's letter as if they were the governor.

 

Documents:
Document 1: "Letter from Carrie Chapman Catt to Hon. Chas. H. Miller, 14 June 1901," Alabama Secretary of State Constitutional Convention Proceedings, SG17778, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2: "Editorial Notes from The Woman's Journal," Alabama Secretary of State Constitutional Convention Proceedings, SG17778, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.