24 Feb March is Women’s History Month
March is Women’s History Month
Written by: Nancy Massey
In a few days, the month of March will begin. March is also known as Women’s History Month. This year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Wow, what better time is there than now to celebrate and research our female ancestors!
The 19th Amendment to our Constitution granted American women the right to vote. It was ratified on August 18, 1920. Where were your female ancestors on this monumental day? Was your female ancestor a suffragist? Having received the right to vote, did your female ancestor exercise that hard won right?
The 1920 U. S. Federal Census will place your female ancestor in a certain location in 1920. It won’t tell you how or if she voted but maybe local voter registrations will. If you have ever researched female ancestors, you already know how elusive they are. Not only does her surname change when she marries but most of her existence relies on the men in her life, her father, her husband, her son, and maybe her brother. Most of that changed in 1920, when a woman won the right to vote.
With any elusive ancestor research, it makes sense to start with what you know. Ask yourself, how do I know that information? Is it reliable? Next, determine what you want to know. Be specific. Do you want to know the name of her parents? Then find out what resources will help you answer that specific question. Would these records be census records, a death certificate, or what?
She is not my female ancestor but she has a vital connection to our library. Let’s research the life of Lulu Miesse. What do we know? Miss Miesse or Lulu was head librarian of the Noblesville Public Library when it was located in a room at the old high school on Conner Street. How do we know that? Well, I just told you so I would be one source for that information. Am I a reliable source? Well, I am pretty familiar with the history of the library. However, we might want to verify or document my information. One resource could be the newspaper. It might report her job responsibility as head librarian. We could check Newspapers.com to see what we can find.
When I enter her name into Newspapers.com, I received 609 matches! I reorganized those results so that the oldest article appears at the top of the list. The earliest article was in 1895. Scanning the list of articles, I see that she was quite active at school and in community clubs. She was a bridesmaid in quite a few weddings. Then I saw this article dated June 22, 1909 entitled “Miss Miesse Succeeds Mrs. Orcutt.”
This article confirms her position as the new librarian. Did you notice that this announcement came from the School Board? You should be asking yourself why the school board. As you do more research, you will discover that when the public library was housed at the school, the school board hired the librarian. It was not until the city took over the library that the city did the hiring.
As I continue down the list of hits on Newspapers.com, I see an article dated 17 September 1909 that shines on Lulu’s character and her commitment to being the best she can be at her new job as the Public Librarian. As we continue to research Lulu using newspapers, we learn more and more information about who she was. Obviously, there is more to find in newspapers than just obituaries.
However, Lulu’s obituary does provide more information about her and her family. It mentions her involvement in establishing the Carnegie Library and the start of Parnassus. As active as she was in the community, I want to know if she was a suffragist as well.
On August 19, 1920, the day the newspaper announced the passage of the 19th Amendment, they announced Lulu was selected as a director for the upcoming Chautauqua. As active as Lulu was in the community, I would not be surprised to learn she was a suffragist. Voter registration lists, if available, would tell us if she did register to vote.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, the Indiana Room will have a six panel historical display for the month of March through the summer. The display will begin with historic images of the events leading up to the ratification of the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and will continue in chronological order with milestones of women in state and local politics. Information about Suffrage Centennial events across Indiana will be available to the public as well as voter registration resources.
I think about my great grandmother. Born in 1869 and died in 1970, how did she feel about the 19th amendment? Did she vote? Because I was born when I was born, I appreciate our female ancestors who endured hardships that I never experienced to pursue suffrage. I never take my right to vote for granted.
If you want to learn more about researching female ancestors, register for my class on Saturday, March 21, 2020, starting at 10am. Hope you can join us!