Organizing People

In early 1881, Correll and other Nebraska suffragists recognized that success in the state was dependent on wide-spread education and concerted efforts to generate support at the local level. The first instrument created to further these ends was the Western Woman's Journal, a monthly paper edited and owned by Lucy and Erasmus Correll, printed in Lincoln with statewide distribution. The paper's initial number, published in April 1881, set the tone for the subsequent issues, with Nebraska's state motto ("Equality Before the Law") in the masthead, above the legend "Devoted to Woman and her Home, Industrial, Educational, and Legal Interests - especially advocating Woman Suffrage."

The second page of the first issue holds a column by Clara Bewick Colby, reprinted from the Beatrice Express, stressing the importance of immediate work for the amendment in spite of the vote being eighteen months away: "The matter being now before the people in definite shape, so that each man must form an opinion about it, the investigation of the subject cannot be too thorough or continued." Nebraska's suffragists hoped the early start would conquer distances, ignorance, and prejudice: "Women of Nebraska, we can tell you the secret of success in the coming struggle…it is work! EDUCATION!! ORGANIZATION!!!" (emphases original).

The Western Woman's Journal became the quasi-offical paper of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and in its pages, the strategies of the workers become obvious. A petition campaign, local and regional conventions, and the creation of town- and precinct-level suffrage organizations were vital parts of the amendment campaign.

Erasmus M. Correll's letter to Henry Upton.
“Woman's Work” from Western Woman's Journal, April 1881.
Western Woman's Journal, reprint from the Grafton Gazette

Petitions and canvassing

In order to stifle anti-suffragist claims that women would not vote even if they could, the NWSA had begun a petition drive, asking women to attest through signing that they did indeed wish to vote. Petition campaigns were common tools of women's organizations building political pressure in support of their causes and proving the support for said cause, a tool Nebraska suffragists knew well. Bittenbender believed such a drive would help Nebraska's campaigners and proposed it at the NWSA's October 1881 Kearney Convention. The petition protested taxation without representation, invoked the clause from the Declaration of Independence "all men are created equal," and "earnestly petition[ed] the qualified electors of the state" to vote for woman suffrage. Bittenbender hoped they would collect 37,712 signatures from Nebraska women, which she acknowledged was "a Herculean task."

Although local meetings were a primary source of signatures, suffragists also canvassed throughout the state, drumming up support in towns and on farmsteads; Emma B. Knight of Inavale: "I spent a day in getting signers to the petition and asking the men to vote for the constitutional amendment. Inavale precinct is large, and the dwellings far between. I only reached thirty women in that one day, but they all signed the petition except one...My success was greater than I looked for…" (italics original).


Local and County Organizations

Every issue of the Journal included reports of town and county organizations that had been formed as a result of local enthusiasm or support for a visiting speaker (most often Correll, Colby, and/or Bittenbender). Other state leaders, including 1881 NWSA president Harriet S. Brooks and south-central Nebraska organizer Clara Chapin, were equally successful in their efforts and by the end of the campaign, the Journal claimed over 100 associations or clubs formed to support the cause.

The reach of these organizing efforts can be seen when local and county organizations are mapped. The following visualization demonstrates the intensity of organizing efforts through the sheer numbers represented. The organizations named come to less than 100 due to (currently) unresolvable naming conflicts and the deliberate exclusion of organizations not formed explicitly for the cause. All data is from the Western Woman's Journal.


County and local organizations visualized.
Extracts from the Western Woman's Journal


County and regional conventions served to generate publicity and recruits for the cause, reinforce the lessons of organization, and strengthen the networks that were developing among organizations and workers. Noteworthy conventions were held at Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, Norfolk, and Kearney. Reports in the Journal indicate these could be lively affairs, and included speeches, prayers and singing. Ada Bittenbender published a "Woman Suffrage Campaign Song Book" to be used at such events; the seventeen songs included "Equality Before the Law," "Ring the Bells of Freedom," and "The Woman's Cause is Right." Orpha C. Dinsmore, as NWSA secretary, urged Correll and Colby to speak at the December 1881 Norfolk Convention: "You are needed there more than any other part of the state. There has been no work of any kind - Temperance, missionary or otherwise done in that district." Both went to the Norfolk Convention, which suffragists held to be a great success.

A look at the 1881 Kearney convention.


Kearney Convention networks visualized


In their quest to educate and inform, Nebraska's woman suffrage leaders utilized the time and energy of women across the state. As publisher of the de facto organ of the movement, Correll tried to recognize these women in the pages of the Western Woman's Journal, signaling their importance locally and state-wide.

In compiling a list of the women named in the pages of the paper, it is clear that the efforts of the organizers were having far-reaching effects and that women were willing the give generously of themselves. It also becomes clear that the woman suffrage movement in the 19th century must be considered outside traditional narratives focusing on national leadership and developing philosophies - the contributions of local workers (even in a "failed" campaign) means women were thinking and talking about rights and the franchise in contexts far more varied than generally portrayed. The list visualized in the attached Exhibit format must be incomplete - two issues of the Journal seem to be non-extant and it is hard not to worry about having left someone's name off - but it is hard to escape the conclusion that (at least in 1881-1882), Nebraska's women were deeply involved in a cause with both local and national ramifications.


Exhibit featuring leadership and convention delegates

National speakers

While utilizing local workers to their fullest, Nebraska leaders also relied on the assistance of national figures and organizations. Donations from state and local organzations across the nation helped subsidize the costs of work in Nebraska and donations of printed material were invaluable to the effort. The presence of national speakers and organizers was particularly desirable, drawing extra publicity and interest everywhere, and NWSA leadership helped national figures plan extensive speaking and organizing tours throughout Nebraska. From August through October of 1882, nationally-known suffrage workers spoke to church and social groups, on street corners, at picnics, and mass meetings, exposing thousands of Nebraskans to their philosophy and hoeps for the future.


View an Exhibit of NWSA-scheduled speaking engagements for national suffrage figures in Nebrska.
Harriet Robinson Shattuck recorded visits in Nebraska in her scrapbook, they are mapped here.
You can view a Google Earth visualization of Wilder M. Wooster's summer visit to Nebraska.
A series of rough Flash movies also illustrate the reach of national speakers.

For a look at Nebraska settlement, click here.

To understand the urgency of reaching rural supporters, visit Nebraska's rural citizens.