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Exploring Primary Sources: Kentucky Women's Suffrage Exercise: Contemporary Opinions

This guide contains the materials and activities for a class exercise on women’s suffrage in Kentucky.

Background

When studying monumental events such as the U.S. Civil War, emancipation of slaves, or women's suffrage, we tend to forget that these happened fairly recently in history. The 19th amendment was ratified barely 100 years ago, which means that even now there are individuals living who were born before women had the right to vote. Oral history projects, such as those conducted by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History here at UK, can capture these stories and memories before they are lost to time. 

Remembering the Vote and Much More Oral History Project, recorded in the 1980s, focuses on the women’s suffrage movement in eastern Kentucky in 1920. Local women recollect their experiences from that time, their memories of election days, as well as general attitudes and opinions on women voting.

Questions

Brainstorm. List 10-20 words or phrases about the documents/items. (Start with the details of the document, like topic, names, publication, etc. What do you find interesting? Strange? Do you find anything appealing or disturbing? Things you don’t understand or are unfamiliar with?)

Articulating Problems. Formulate 2-4 possible problems that could be developed from the above list of words and description of materials. (Problems can be found by looking for tensions between ideas, conflicts between your own experience and what the text/image presents, assumptions underlying the arguments of the text/item, or if you notice any gaps or missing information overlooked by the source).


Focus Questions:

What can we learn from these women’s recollections? 

What are some biases in play? 

What gives their stories authority? What should we be wary of? 

Oral history interview excerpts

Remembering the Vote and Much More Oral History Project

Interview with Orbie Vaughn, July 2, 1987 

(14:38) Vaughn: “But now I remember all these others, and I remember the first election that women were allowed to vote.” 

I: “You do?” 

Vaughn: “Mhm.” 

I: “Tell me about it.” 

Vaughn: “And I was just a s-, I was small, I can’t remember just how old I was.” 

I: “It was 1920. I can tell you when it was.” 

Vaughn: “Yeah.” 

I: “November of 1920.” 

Vaughn: “And uh, you know, you can imagine in the country they wasn’t, uh, too happy with the women voting. And uh, I remember what my, uh, what my father said. My father said, I don’t, I don’t think that this will work because, uh, it seems that men should handle it, that women are too weak, and my mother got real upset.” 

I: [laughter] 

Vaughn: “But she didn’t vote that time, but she voted the next time around.” 

Remembering the Vote and Much More Oral History Project

Interview with Ora Mae Warrens, July 8, 1987 

(15:29) I: “Does it have any particular—you say that your father was always involved and, uh, concerned about it, but that your mother was not so. Uh, do you—do you feel that, that it’s an important activity for women to be a--, to engage in?” 

Warrens: “Yes, I do.” 

I: “You do?” 

Warrens: “Yes. I feel—well, I didn’t at first. I would rather they wouldn’t vote. Then uh, ---. I just uh, didn’t know so much about it. And I suppose it’s okay.” 

I: “Uh, why did you feel that, back then, that you would rather they didn’t vote?” 

Warrens: “Well, I just thought that wasn’t a woman’s place and I would rather it just go on like it was. But that’s all the excuse I had, I think, back then. But uh, I think it’s all right.” 

 

Remembering the Vote and Much More Oral History Project

Interview with Polly V. Hall, July 29, 1987

(04:39) I: “Do you remember—it was in 1920 in November, and that’s the year that women got the right to vote. Do you remember when that happened?” 

Hall: “Yeah, I can remember that, or something about it.” 

I: “What do you remember about it?” 

Hall: “I think women ought’nt had the right to vote.” 

I: “You think they should or shouldn’t?” 

Hall: “Shouldn’t.” 

I: “Shouldn’t. Why not?” 

Hall: “Because it caused lots of trouble. It caused lots of trouble.” 

I: “It did? It caused lots of trouble when they got the right to vote?” 

Hall: “Well, the people, you know the voters, -- one another, it caused hardness.” 

I: “It caused hard feelings?” 

Hall: “Yeah, yeah, hard feelings. Yeah, one from another.” 

… 

(12:26) I: “Now, you said that you think that women shouldn’t have never voted. Right?” 

Hall: “Well yeah.” 

I: “Why?” 

Hall: “Well, I don’t know, I—it seemed like it caused more hardness. It’s all right if they want to, I reckon’, to vote.” 

I: “But you’re saying that it caused trouble between men and women. Right?” 

Hall: “Cause of women, you know, the women get together and have—maybe one will be a Republican, and one a Democrat.” 

I: “Mhm. Oh so you’re saying it caused hardness between the women?” 

Hall: “Why yeah, mostly, just the talking, you know. Hard feelings.”