Fifth and Sixth Graders Learn About Voting, Civic Engagement, and Women’s Suffrage

Today’s post comes from Ang Reidell, education specialist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

Students at Wenonah Elementary School in New Jersey were surprised by many things recently when I brought copies of two National Archives documents about women’s suffrage into their classroom.

They were amazed that there was a time when women were not allowed to vote in elections in the United States. Some wondered out loud when and why the law had been passed that prohibited women from voting – and thus were even more surprised when they realized that women were not given the right to vote in the Constitution itself.

The students examined two different letters from 1918 from organizations in New Jersey, each addressed to different members of Congress. They compared the points of view and main argument in the letters.

Through that process, they noticed that one of the letters (a letter from the Orange, NJ, Political Study Club) urged the Senate to pass a women’s suffrage amendment, and that one was from a women’s group that was against the idea of women voting: a letter from the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.

Why would some women not want women to vote? The students raised that question, then discussed possible answers as illustrated in the letters.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I encourage teachers to access primary sources and activities related to suffrage and women’s rights on DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives.

Primary sources are an important foundation for classroom discussions about how women – and other people who have been disenfranchised – fought for the right to cast their ballots as American citizens.

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