Compare and Contrast: Women’s Suffrage
One of the key analytical skills reflected in state and national learning standards is the ability to compare and contrast information. Historical documents can be used to give students practice with this skill because there are many opposing viewpoints in history and documents can easily be found. The following lesson uses two documents from the women’s suffrage era that were found at the Library of Congress American Memory website.
Learning Objective: Students will be able to read and analyze two historical documents on the issue of women’s suffrage and compare and contrast the arguments presented in each document. They will be able to state arguments for and against women’s suffrage.
NYS Social Studies Learning Standards:
Standard 1: Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and New York.
Standard 5: Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the U.S. and other nations; the U.S. Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.
Materials Needed: Access the two documents at the American Memory website that is provided, as well as the graphic organizer, and save to media drive or hard disk for projection on screen or interactive whiteboard. Copy the graphic organizer for all students.
Lesson Plan: The following lesson assumes that students need assistance in learning how to analyze and compare/contrast historical documents. If your students have previously used these skill sets, you may prefer to separate the class into cooperative groups, giving each group a laminated copy of one of the documents as they fill in the graphic organizer.
1. Share the following historical background and essential questions with students, giving them a preset for the historical era and task that they will be accomplishing. Explain that the skill of comparing and contrasting is one that is important to learn, because it is often needed to be successful in state assessment tests or essay assignments in Social Studies or Language Arts.
General Historical Background: Women in the United States achieved the vote only after a very gradual and protracted political battle that began in the mid-19th century. Though some states passed suffrage laws earlier, (NY women achieved suffrage in 1917) nationally women did not achieve the vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.
Essential Questions: What arguments did opposing parties put forth on the subject of women’s suffrage? How are these arguments alike, and how are they different?
2. Present the first document on screen. On an interactive whiteboard, you may wish to highlight or underline parts of the document as students give answers to the following questions:
- What do you first notice about this document?
- Who is the author of the document? When was it created? (Students will have to look at bibliographic information to ascertain this).
- What is the intended purpose of the document?
- Who was the intended audience for the document? (Citizens, men, women, government, general public because reading level required is not too difficult).
- What terms need to be defined to understand this document? (Suffrage, wage, remedied, legislation, women of leisure, social and civic responsibility, consumers). [Note: it may be helpful to “chunk” the document for students by revealing one reason at a time for discussion on terms.]
- What would you do if you did not know the meaning of a term? (Look it up in a dictionary or online).
- What would you do if you did not have access to a definition? (Try to make sense of the term by using the context of surrounding information). Example: The term “wage” is followed by “workers,” so even if you did not understand the word wage, you could make sense of the statement.
- Which argument do you think is the strongest argument, and why?
- Is the document written in a logical, or an emotional, manner?
- Is there an argument that seems biased or untrue?
3. The second document is at a more difficult reading level. You may need to “chunk” the document for students and greatly assist them with understanding the vocabulary. Present the second document on screen and ask:
- What is the first thing about this document that stands out?
- Who is the author of the document?
- When was it created? (Students will have to look at bibliographic information to ascertain this).
- What is the intended purpose of the document? Who was the intended audience for the document? (Men and educated persons, government – not general public because reading level is difficult).
- What terms need to be defined to fully understand this document? (stability, inexpedient, immunity, executing, suffrage, corrupt, effectual, efface, differentiation, division of labor, infringe, obligations, ballot-box, deprive, hitherto, impartial). Can you understand the document without knowing each of those terms? Which terms are absolutely necessary to understand?
- Which argument has more factual support? How do you know this? Which argument uses persuasive techniques more effectively, and why? Which argument do you think people of the era found more sympathetic? Is the same argument more sympathetic today; if so, why?
- Is the document written in a logical or an emotional, manner?
- Is there an argument that seems biased or untrue? (For example, the statement that the majority of women are against it – how was that determined, or is it just the writer’s opinion?)
4. Hand out the graphic organizer. Project the two documents side-by-side, if possible. Give students time (approximately 10 minutes) to write down their analysis of the documents. Share the results of their findings and conduct a short class discussion. As a follow-up assignment, you may want students to write a short reflection or homework assignment on the question, What arguments did people of this era offer in support of and in opposition to suffrage?