Rare Collection of Suffragist Papers Donated to Swarthmore

Alisa Giardinelli

Rare Collection of Suffragist Papers
Donated to Swarthmore College

Collection Includes Letters from Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

by Alisa Giardinelli
08/06/2007

The Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College is the new home for a rare collection of papers belonging to a central yet largely unknown figure in the effort to win women the right to vote. The papers of Mariana Wright Chapman, the president of the New York State Suffrage Association in the 1890s, had not been available to the public before their arrival at Swarthmore earlier this year.

Among the Chapman Collection are dozens of letters from famous women's rights advocates Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt. In addition, Chapman kept news clippings, photographs, and detailed journals. One journal entry describes a lunch at Stanton's house with Susan B. Anthony on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. />

Mariana Wright Chapman

"These women were among the most important figures in the movement," says Christopher Densmore, curator of the Friends Historical Library (FHL). "They literally made it their lives' work. One letter is a five-page strategy discussion. So there's a lot of substance in this collection that shows the tremendous organizational efforts needed to secure the vote for women."

The collection is a gift from Anne Chapman Booth, Chapman's granddaughter and a member of Swarthmore's Class of 1932. "It's very unusual to have this kind of material," says FHL archivist Pat O'Donnell, who met with Booth nearly two years ago. "She was literally bringing shoeboxes of letters out from under her bed."

The Chapman Collection nicely augments the complete records of the New York Yearly Meeting, also housed in the FHL. "Not only did Anne Chapman Booth have a love and loyalty to Swarthmore," O'Donnell says, "but she felt that the papers could be viewed in the most comprehensive light here."


Friends Historical Library Curator Christopher Densmore met with
Gwen Wright, host of PBS' "History Detectives," for a segment that will air Aug. 27.

The arrival of the Chapman Collection is one highlight among many this year for the FHL. Later this month, curator Densmore will be featured on PBS' "History Detectives" in a segment on area Quakers. In September, he will lecture on Quakers and the Underground Railroad at conferences in Georgetown, Kentucky, and Rochester, N.Y. Also in September, FHL will sponsor a visit by Nat and Yanna Brandt, authors of In the Shadow of the Civil War (2007), a book about the rescue of Jane Johnson from slavery in Philadelphia in 1855. This is the same incident that was the basis for Lorene Cary's The Price of a ChildLucretia Mott, a Swarthmore College founder and key figure in the abolitionist movement, was one of the people involved in the rescue.

Established in 1871, the Friends Historical Library is located on the campus of Swarthmore College and is open to the public. Its mission is to document the history of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and its concerns from the 17th century to the present.

Excerpts from the letters:

"In addition to burdens and trials, I have an insurrection brewing in my kitchen that is likely to compel me to wield my own dishtowel and fry pan in the near future. I am much of the opinion that professional reformers should be old maids or widows without encumbrances." - Carrie Chapman Catt, Jan. 5, 1896

Leading up to the Spanish-American War in 1898, Susan B. Anthony complained that the Civil War had resulted in the emancipation of the slave, that the coming war was supposed to liberate the Spanish colonies, and asked, "When will there be a women's hour? We must be patient again."