DPLA launches Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection

By DPLA, September 10, 2020.
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September 10, 2020 – Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is pleased to announce the launch of its new Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection. The collection makes freely accessible nearly 200,000 artifacts, including images, videos, letters, diaries, speeches, maps, and oral histories, from DPLA’s more than 4,000 partner institutions that document the contributions and experiences of Black women during the women’s suffrage movement as well as Black women’s activism from the 1850s to the 1960s. A highlight of the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection is the Ida B. Wells Barnett Papers from the University of Chicago, a collection of correspondence, diaries, articles, speeches, newspaper clippings, and photographs from Wells Barnett’s storied life and work as an activist and suffragist. In the coming months an exhibit featuring items from the life of activist and suffragist Mary Church Terrell, courtesy of  Oberlin College, and the Charlotta Bass Papers, documenting the life of the publisher, activist, and leader Charlotta Bass, courtesy of the Southern California Library, will be added to the collection. The new site also includes a timeline that reveals the breadth and depth of Black women’s activism over nearly a century and short biographies that give context to materials related to both well- and lesser-known suffragists and activists.

Key to the development of the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection was a set of partnerships, announced in July 2020, with the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library; Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston; Tuskegee University Archives; the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University; and Southern California Library. These collaborations, powered by funding from Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created  by Melinda Gates, enabled these partner institutions to digitize artifacts related to Black Women’s Suffrage in their collections. These artifacts will include records from the Grace Towns Hamilton Papers, Atlanta Urban League Papers, and Neighborhood Union Collection at Robert W. Woodruff Library; records from the Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club Papers at Avery Research Center; the Tuskegee Women’s Club Journal at Tuskegee University Archives; records from the personal papers of Mississippi businesswoman, church leader, and civil rights activist Clarie Collins Harvey at Amistad Research Center; and records from the Charlotta Bass Papers at Southern California Library. Details about these partnerships and digitization efforts can be found here. 

“We are thrilled to be able to connect scholars, students, and the public with this rich and diverse collection to help bring to life and contextualize the legacies of these inspiring Black women.” said DPLA Community Manager Shaneé Yvette Murrain. “The Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection is the culmination of nearly a year of work by our team and partners,” added DPLA Executive Director John S. Bracken, “We are especially proud to help elevate these important stories at this transitory time in American history.”

The launch of the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection was celebrated on September 8, 2020, with Race, Power, and Curation, the most attended virtual event in DPLA’s history. It featured a keynote by Dorothy Berry, the Digital Collections Program Manager at Houghton Library, Harvard University, on the importance of curating Black Collections and intentionally centering Black Stories. DPLA board member Elaine L. Westbrooks, Vice Provost of University Libraries and University Librarian at UNC-Chapel Hill, opened the session talking about the impact of curatorial choices, and Yusef Omowale of the Southern California Digital Library discussed his organization’s work with the Charlotta Bass papers. In addition, representatives from DPLA’s Metadata Working Group, Leanne Finnigan and Penelope Shumaker, described the creation of a Harmful Content Statement, and DPLA Community Manager Shaneé Yvette Murrain, along with UI/UX designer Jasmine Lockwood, walked through the process of creating the collection. A recording of the event is available here

DPLA extends its thanks to all of our partners, our staff members past and present, and all of those whose creativity, dedication, and hard work contributed to the creation of BlackWomensSuffrage.org. Please find a full list of credits here

The Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection is powered by Pivotal Ventures,  an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates.