Educator Resources

Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment: Failure is Impossible

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The original production of Failure is Impossible occurred on August 26, 1995, for the National Archives commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 19th amendment. The play brought to life both the facts and the emotions of the momentous struggle for voting rights. Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change in the Constitution. Militant suffragists used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Much of this struggle is documented in the records of the National Archives. To dramatize the debate for woman suffrage, playwright Rosemary Knower was commissioned to write a narrative script, drawing on the Congressional Record, petitions to Congress, personal letters within the legislative records of the Government, and other archival sources such as newspaper editorials and articles, diaries and memoirs. The story was told through the voices of Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Frances Gage, Clara Barton, and Carrie Chapman Catt, among others.

The 19th amendment celebration was an example of the Arts and Culture Program's employment of theatrical and live presentation techniques to heighten public awareness and understanding of historic events. Over the years the National Archives has commissioned more than a dozen original plays based on the records in its holdings, presented the plays in the Archives' Theater, and shared the scripts with its Presidential libraries, regional archives, and other educational institutions and theaters. Time and again these presentations have demonstrated the effectiveness of using dramatic interpretation as an educational tool for bringing history to life.

Read the Script