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Exploring Primary Sources: Kentucky Women's Suffrage Exercise

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


In any widespread political or social justice movement, leaders and advocates do not always agree on the appropriate means to reach the desired end. Suffragists had a common goal conceptually, but disagreement on how to accomplish it led to fractions within the movement. Some of these have been highlighted throughout this exercise, for example the exploitation of racial tension. The following documents highlight another key disagreement among Suffragist leaders--whether suffrage should be attained through state or federal amendment.


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 about the dynamics of the movement? 

What perspectives are presented in these documents? What perspectives are missing?

Internal conflicts, disagreements

Newspaper clipping, March 1919

From the Laura Clay papers collection.

Clipping lists newly appointed leaders for the Kentucky Equal Right Association, mentions Laura Clay's split from the organization due to her stance on state's right to decide.

Newspaper clipping, June 1919

From the Laura Clay papers collection.

Open letter form Laura Clay on decision to part with the Kentucky Equal Right Association on suffrage, due to her belief that states should decide.