Rethinking Suffrage 2020 – Educator’s Guide

About Rethinking Suffrage 2020

Women’s suffrage, or female enfranchisement, is typically characterized as a seventy year battle, launched in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York and sustained by successive generations of determined white suffragists until its successful conclusion in 1920.

Rethinking Suffrage 2020 recasts the history of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States by examining the topic thematically and by pulling overlooked black suffragists and organizations, such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), into the narrative. Students will understand that, despite the broad participation of African American women in the suffrage movement, the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920 did not result in either universal suffrage or female equality. They will discover that generations of “traditional” suffragists both weaponized gender norms and leveraged their power within the private sphere to claim the right to vote. They will learn that memorials and monuments often distort history, rather than accurately reflect it. Rethinking Suffrage 2020 gives students the tools and perspective to reassess the story of female suffrage and women’s rights in the United States and to participate in constructing a more inclusive narrative.

This curriculum is in alignment with the following standards in the Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science (grades 9-12):

  • SS.IS.1.9-12;  SS.IS.4.9-12; SS.IS.5.9-12; SS.IS.6.9-12  (all inquiry skills)
  • SS.H.1.9-12;  SS.H.2.9-12; SS.H.3.9-12; SS.H.7.9-12; SS.H.9.9-12 (history standards)

Using this Guide

Rethinking Suffrage 2020 gives educators the opportunity to blend interactive, online learning with traditional classroom instruction. The unit consists of three lessons that can be taught as a one-week sequence or as stand-alone supplements to units on female reform, the Progressive Era or Civil Rights. 

Links to online student resources and teacher guides are below. The first lesson is presented in Sutori, an online curriculum platform, with a PDF lesson plan. Lessons 2 and 3 are in PDF format and readable via Adobe Acrobat.

Learning Goals

In this Unit students will:

  • Learn how suffragists used fashion to signal their political identity.
  • Discover the hidden contributions of overlooked black suffragists.
  • Understand why female suffrage did not result in gender equality.
  • Construct a new suffrage narrative through the creation of memorials and obituaries.
  • Apply critical thinking skills to analyze primary sources.

Lesson 1–Suffrage, Fashion and Political Identity, 1848-present

Lesson 2–Overlooked:  Race and Universal Suffrage (1848-present)

Lesson 3–Monuments and Memory: Honoring Suffragists (1921-present)


This online resource was created by Catherine Sardo Weidner, Ph.D. in consultation with the Evanston Women’s History Project. Weidner earned her B.A. from the College of William and Mary and her doctorate in American History from Northwestern University. She is Senior Lecturer in History at Lake Forest College, where she has taught since 1999.  A longtime local historian, she has written, taught, and lectured widely on issues of race, class, community and labor in Chicago.

Weidner is also the co-founder and history instructor for the Sojourner Scholars Summer Humanities Institute, an Illinois Humanities program which provides high school students from four South Side CPS high schools the opportunity to take college level courses with local university and college faculty over the course of three summers, beginning the summer following their freshman year.