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An "Equal Suffrage College": How Swarthmore Alumni Fought for the 19th Amendment

The article will appear in the upcoming issue of the Bulletin.

This year marks a century since the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was adopted in August 1920. 

It passed in no small part due to one of Swarthmore’s most famous alumni, Alice Paul, Class of 1905, but she didn’t do it alone.

Paul worked closely with former classmates Mabel Vernon, Class of 1906, and Amelia Himes Walker, Class of 1902, on the Silent Sentinels campaign, picketing Woodrow Wilson’s White House among other tactics.

Other Swarthmore generations were also involved in the cause — from Ellen H. Evans Price, Class of 1874, president of the Pennsylvania Equal Suffrage League; to Marion Nicholl Rawson, Class of 1898, on the Connecticut Women Suffrage Association’s Executive Board; and Mary Elizabeth Pidgeon, Class of 1913, who moved to New York, then South Dakota, then Virginia, to promote ratification in each state.

“Swarthmore is growing to be an Equal Suffrage College,” a special issue of the Phoenix dedicated to suffrage noted in 1912.

This seems natural, as Swarthmore was one of the first coeducational colleges in the United States. Professor Robert C. Brooks, founder of the Swarthmore Men’s Equal Suffrage League, based his support of the cause on the observation that the women in his classes were the intellectual equals of the men in his classes. After the 19th Amendment passed, the Phoenix noted that women outnumbered men in political science classes for the first time in fall 1920.

The Friends Historical Library is marking the anniversary by digitizing documents from its collections — including the papers of Lucretia Mott — that showcase the surge of women’s activism in a variety of causes over the 19th century, culminating in the passage of the suffrage amendment. Further information can also be found in "A Movement of Doers", a zine celebrating 19th and 20th century women's activism compiled by Swarthmore College Libraries.

Learn more about the In Her Own Right project, which showcases Philadelphia-area collections highlighting women’s struggle to assert their rights throughout the century prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

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