Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Earlier this fall, the Friends of the Johns Hopkins University Libraries took a bus trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the exhibition Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote at the Library of Congress. The exhibition, which opened this past June and runs through September 2020, tells the story of the largest reform movement in American history with handwritten letters, speeches, photographs, and scrapbooks from the suffragists who changed political history 100 years ago.

The trip was led by Jim Williams, president of the Friends of the Libraries, and Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries, Archives, and Museums. Since 1931, the Friends have helped provide resources for Johns Hopkins scholars and supported programming designed to engage, enlighten, and inspire the university and Baltimore communities.

“Our Friends group is typically focused on activities related to the purview of Hopkins libraries,” said Williams. “Our trip to the Library of Congress—the largest library in the world—provided an opportunity to see the role of a library from a national perspective.”

Dr. Carla Hayden (pictured front row, first from left) with the Friends group.

The group was welcomed by Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, who previously led Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. Dr. Hayden shared personal anecdotes and gave a tour of her office overlooking the Capitol, before the group visited the Shall Not Be Denied exhibit. “Since she is the first woman, and the first African American, to serve as Librarian of Congress, her comments about the passage of the 19th Amendment were especially poignant,” said Williams.

“As institutions in Washington and across the country mark the centennial of women’s suffrage, now is a great time to learn more about women’s history. At the Library of Congress, we are so thrilled to share this new exhibition at this moment of national reflection,” said Hayden in the exhibition’s press release. “Through the personal collections of many extraordinary women who helped shape this country, you will get a more intimate view into the struggles, the rivalries and ultimately the triumphs of this 70-year movement.”

Helena Hill Weed serving 3-day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying suffrage banner, July 6-8, 1917. NWP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

The exhibition documents the major women’s suffrage organizations—the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, which eventually merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the National Women’s Party (NWP)—that all advocated for female enfranchisement, but disagreed on the best means to achieve this end. “The images of the NWP’s members who were imprisoned for protesting at the White House were especially powerful,” said sociologist Bess Vincent, Ph.D., director of special projects in the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences who was invited to join the trip. “It really makes you think about the power we all have to change our society.”

Johns Hopkins University is participating in the national commemoration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage by offering public events, seminars, and exhibitions that inform and at times challenge our understanding of the history of the 19th Amendment and its effect on female empowerment today.

W.S.P Votes for Women Pinback Button. Department of Special Collections, Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries

At the Sheridan Libraries, two of our 2019-2020 Freshman Fellows are working with Special Collections librarian Heidi Herr to research and organize a suffrage exhibit featuring ephemera, books, journals, and other items in our growing Women’s Suffrage Collection. The exhibition will open next August at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

The group concluded their day by visiting the Library’s ongoing exhibition, Thomas Jefferson’s Library, and Main Reading Room.

With nearly 700 members across the country, the Friends of the Libraries provide support for acquisitions and conservation, exhibitions and programming, and resources to help Johns Hopkins scholars stay ahead in a research landscape that is constantly changing. “We invite others to join the Friends and participate in future field trips as we expand our perspectives related to the important work of the Sheridan Libraries,” said Williams.

Follow the hashtag #JHUWomensVote100 to keep up with Johns Hopkins University’s Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration.