Organizing Space

For a general look at Nebraska settlement and the railroads, click here.

Developing a campaign over Nebraska's "magnificent distances" meant state leadership had to have a strong sense of where time and resources could be most efficiently utilized - they naturally relied on the railroad. But Nebraska suffragists were not just aware of the railroad as a fact of life, they understood the ways it impacted settlement and how its presence shaped their mobility and campaigning.

Clara Bewick Colby to Erasmus Correll

Creighton 11 20 81

Dear Sir It has been undecided whether the convention should begin Wed. morn or Wed even. As we shall have to reach Norfolk Tues. even. anyway on account of the unreliability of the trains. The convention will be held during Wed morn Wed & Thurs. begin Wed morn Nov. 30. Advertise to this intent

Yours. C.B. Colby


Clara Chapin to Erasmus Correll

Riverton, Neb.
December 26, 1881

Dear Sir,
Knowing your self-sacrificing spirit, I don't want to ask too much of you, but can you make it possible to be present at our Co. Convention to be held in Bloomington Jan 20th? I have not been officially instructed to extend this invitation, and perhaps you have already received one from head-quarters, but in order to make our convention a success, I feel we must have outside assistance. I have also sent Mrs. Colby an invitation or rather an urgent request, she present. We are in hopes, in a few days, to have a through passenger train to Culbertson. By this arrangement you will not be obliged to remain in Red Cloud over night either way.

We have recently had the pleasure of a visit from Miss Bell, who is a grand success wherever she goes. The “cause” in Franklin Co. received a wonderful impetus in her visit. We were sorry she could not go any farther west than Bloomington.
Very Truly Yours, Clara C. Chapin

[The passenger line did not yet extend beyond Bloomington and winter weather made travel by other means incredibly difficult]


When Correll wrote Upton with an estimate of $25,000 needed to properly run the campaign, he made sure to mention the unavoidable costs of travel. Although state officers and executive committee members rode on half-fares arranged with the railroads and national speakers were frequently traveling at reduced rates, not everyone experienced this. Concerns over transportation and printing costs (for pamphlets to be distributed throughout the state) were frequent topics in correspondence between Nebraskans and national leadership. Even as money became a critical issue however, the NWSA sent speakers across the state with great regularity - most often Correll or Colby themselves. Following just the reported speeches given by Colby and Correll reveals each traveled well over 1000 miles in the eighteen months of the campaign - the vast majority of it by rail.

Workers in the field

From the Western Woman's Journal, September 1882
Mrs. Bittenbender is working very energetically and effectively in preparing literature for the campaign. We believe she is quietly accomplishing a vast amount of good. Mr.'s Bigelow is attending to the arduous duties of her position as secretary and making stirring speeches in the field. Mrs. Colby is working, with great energy and success in many portions of the state, organizing and speaking. Mr. Wooster is doing noble work as a speaker in the western part of the state. Miss Bell is doing a strong work in the eastern part of the state. Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Holmes are eroding a large amount of work in corresponding Mrs. Brass, Mrs. Chapin and other organizers are rapidly organizing local associations. Miss Hindman is speaking with marked success over the state.

Mrs. Hoag is doing thorough work in Gage county. Judge Morris is striking sturdy blows for the cause - Local workers, noble ones too numerous to mention are doing much local work to advance in the cause. Luc stone, Susan B. Anthony, H. B. Blackwell, Helen M. Gougar ,Margaret W. Campbell, and many other able and experienced workers, will be on Nebraska soil to aid us in our noble struggle. The writer is also devoting his whole time to the work. The cause is everywhere progressing.


It is, of course, to be expected that railroads facilitated the execution of the 1881-1882 campaign - activists had relied on them for decades. What is important when looking at campaigns in the spaces of the Plains and the in the West is to understand how significant they were to the activisits themselves - they understood that railroads were the cornerstone of settlement and, in fashioning a campaign that met the challenges of the region, acknowledged that their strategic deployment of rail resources was part of the project they saw as "civilizing" of the West, or at least the "fair-minded" people of Nebraska. The extent to which Nebraska's leadership claimed Plains spaces can be seen in the deliberate organiztion of suffrage organizations in each of the state's judicial districts, in places urban and rural.

County and local organizations visualized.

The strategic utilization of railroads for political ends has long been the fodder for analyses of male-dominated political cultures - most notably the whistlestop campaigns of William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt. The campaigns of Bryan and Roosevelt are seen as portents of a new kind of politics, as intrinsically modern in their combination of message, technology, and mobility - Anthony, Sewell, and many others may not have been speechifying off the back of a train, but the frequently short-term stops with multiple events in each town were just as important in the creation of a female-centered political culture that worked to claim space for the cause and effectively shaped networks locally and nationally (and were taking place decades before national male political figures were generally so vigorous in their travels). Exploring the plans Nebraska's suffrage leaders created, with national help, to send speakers to the end of every rail line and nearly every place they were requested demosntrates how dedicated they were to the cause and how invested they were in the modern project of travel.

View an Exhibit of NWSA-scheduled speaking engagements for national suffrage figures in Nebraska.

Moving the study of female activism and mobility beyond Nebraska and into South Dakota has begun to reveal similar patterns of technology and activism feeding the movement and a fruitful arena for further consideration: Julia B. Nelson in South Dakota