Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton initiated the project of writing a history of the women’s suffrage movement in 1876. The result, “The History of Woman Suffrage”, was a landmark work that serves as a moving testament to what intelligent, courageous, and committed individuals can accomplish when they join together to accomplish a great goal. Producing this history, which was ultimately a four volume set of books, dominated Anthony’s life for much of the next decade. It was written and published during the heat of battle, and the preface notes that some women’s rights activists felt it was too soon to publish the history of a movement that was still working to attain its objective. But Anthony, Stanton, and their co-author Matilda J. Gage, were determined to capture the words and insights of their contemporaries in the movement while they were still living. Today the work is an extraordinary primary resource.
In the introduction the authors wrote of their intentions: “We hope the contribution we have made may enable some other hand in the future to write a more complete history of ‘the most momentous reform that has yet been launched on the world—the first organized protest against the injustice which has brooded over the character and destiny of one-half the human race.” Volumes 1 through 3 of the magnum opus were written by Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Gage. Volume 1 covered the early period of the women’s rights struggle from 1848-1861; Volume 2 covered the period from 1861-1876; and Volume 3 covered the period from 1876-1885. The fourth volume, written by Anthony and Ida H. Harper, did not come out until 1902.
In 1882, the legislature of Nebraska considered a woman suffrage amendment. The proposal was to submit the question of women’s suffrage to the voters. The women of that state called upon the National Association for assistance, and in September Anthony left Rochester and went west. She spoke before women’s suffrage conventions and other organizations throughout the state, urging passage of the amendment and promoting her organization and her books. Clara Colby founded the “Women’s Tribune” in Nebraska in 1883, later moving the paper to Washington where it became the country’s leading women’s suffrage periodical. Being the leader of the suffrage movement in Nebraska, she also made several speeches supporting the bill.
D.F. Davis was a noted editor in Nebraska, owning the Silver Creek Sand, Schuyler Herald, Columbus Democrat and the Columbus Telegram. He was postmaster at Columbus in 1894-6. His wife was active in the suffrage movement in her state. In March 1887Anthony wrote Mrs. Davis saying: “I have not forgotten my pledge to persons & audiences [in Nebraska in 1882] that [if they] gave $10 or more to the campaign fund that I would – out of my own pocket – present a set of the History of Woman Suffrage. I have had Vol. III ready to send to you to place in your book case by the side of Vols. I& II, which you had or ought to have had in 1882…”
Autograph letter signed, on her National Woman Suffrage Association letterhead, Rochester, N.Y., June 14, 1887, to Mrs. Davis, following up and making sure that contributors to her movement received the complete and up to date volumes of her books. “I was very glad to hear from you, and my sister despatched volume of History of Woman Suffrage to you yesterday afternoon. In that Nebraska campaign of 1882 had a splendid meeting at Columbus and was the guest of Mr. & Mrs. Adams – lovely young people. They gave me a very liberal contribution of $25 or more, and I think I sent a copy of Vol. I & II to Mr. Adams and also a copy of each to the public library – but am not done! I have written Mr. Adams but got no reply – he was a railroad man, I think. Can you tell me of his whereabouts now? Or if the History is in any library in Columbus now?
“I have succeeded in hearing from nearly all of the 35 or 40 places & persons who gave me the $10 in that campaign and were promised in return a full set of the History. And some of them have added [money] for Vol. III as a farther contribution to help along the distribution of the books. But I consider that all who contributed the $10 to that campaign fund of 1882 are fairly entitled to the third volume. Hence do not wish to fail of finding everyone who thus contributed…With pleasant memories of those lovely October days of 1882, and especially of the one at your lovely home…Susan B. Anthony.”
This letter shows the diligence with which Anthony sought to circulate her books and her message, and that her memory for friends and contributors to her movement was strong even years after the event.