Legislative Branch

Woman’s Place in America: Congress and Woman Suffrage

Guiding Question:  

How do these sources contrast visions of America and woman’s place in it?


This lesson uses primary sources from the Center for Legislative Archives and the National Archives to engage students in studying the Progressive Era issue of woman suffrage. It features petitions, correspondence, and legislative records sent to Congress as it debated suffrage prior to passage of the 19th Amendment.

Recommended Levels:

Grades 8 - 12


U.S. History or Civics

Time Required:

60 minutes


6 Document Facsimiles 

4 Worksheets

Answer Key for Worksheet 3

Featured Documents:

  • Petition from Minnie Fisher Cunningham of the Texas Woman Suffrage Association for Passage of the "Susan B. Anthony Amendment," May 2, 1916; Records of the U.S House of Representatives; NAID 306659
  • Petition from Carrie Chapman Catt of the National American Woman Suffrage Association asking that a Committee on Woman Suffrage be appointed in the House of Representatives as in the Senate, April 10, 1917; Records of the U.S. House of Representative; NAID 306662
  • Memorial of Alice Wadsworth of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, December 11, 1917; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives; NAID 595295
  • Petition from the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage to Congress Opposing a Constitutional Suffrage Amendment, June 26, 1918; Records of the U.S. Senate; NAID 23914362
  • Petition from the Citizens of Massachusetts in Support of Woman Suffrage, ca. 1879; Records of the U.S. Senate; NAID 595454
  • “Will King George Be Forced to This Device?” by Clifford K. Berryman, June 8, 1914; U.S. Senate Collection, Records of the U.S. Senate; NAID 306102

Learning Activities: 

Activity 1: Document Analysis

Divide the class into six groups and assign each group one document. Instruct each group to use the appropriate National Archives Document Analysis Worksheet to study the assigned document.

Activity 2: Decoding the Document

Instruct each group to complete Worksheet 2. A spokesperson for each group should report their findings to the class. 

Activity 3: Perspectives on the Woman Suffrage Issue

Divide the class into six new groups. Reorganize the groups so that each new group contains a student who has studied one of the documents, and all six documents are represented in each new group. Have each of the new groups complete the table on Worksheet 3. The six documents present sub-issues related to Woman Suffrage, and each group should be instructed to match each document to a sub-issue. Instruct the groups to draw from the table to answer the questions on Worksheet 3. Have them share their responses with the full class.

Activity 4: Reflection

Discuss the following reflection questions as a class:

  1. What does the study of these sources add to understanding Progressive America?
  2. What does the study of these sources add to understanding America today?

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