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A LIFELONG INTEREST When I began my graduate study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1938,1 had no idea that I would write a dissertation on the history of woman suffrage. At that time there was little interest in subjects relating to women, and few historians considered them worthy of serious study. Nor were many women doing graduate work in history. The professors at the University of North Carolina were friendly, fair in grading, and courteous in the classroom, but they did not conceal the fact that they preferred male students and that they favored the men in job placement. At the suggestion of one of my professors, I wrote my Master's thesis on the convict lease system in Georgia. Although I found this subject very satisfactory for a thesis, I did not feel inclined to pursue it later when working on my doctorate. It was quite by accident that I discovered my lifelong research interest . After completing my Master's degree in 1940,1 accepted a teaching position at Judson College, a small, church-supported, liberal arts institution for women in Marion, Alabama. While browsing in the college library one afternoon, I happened upon the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. This History is not a narrative , but rather a collection of source materials relating to the suffrage movement. It consists of speeches, correspondence, convention proceedings, accounts of congressional committee hearings, reports from state suffrage auxiliaries, and other similar items. It has been described as an "immense grab bag" of suffrage information and is an invaluable reference for historians. It had been published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association and widely distributed. There may have been copies in the libraries that I had used during college and graduate school, but I had not been been aware of them. That afternoon at Judson I began leafing through one of the volumes . Then I began reading. My interest augmented rapidly as I continued to read. This was good material. It was exciting. Suddenly I knew that I had found my subject: I wanted to work on women suffrage. 3 4 CITIZENS AT LAST I was a graduate of two universities. I had majored in history at both. But that afternoon I realized that I knew almost nothing about women. My courses had taught me little. Prior to the 1970s the role of women was thought to have been a minor one and of little historical significance. Few scholars considered it worthy of consideration, and textbooks mentioned women only briefly. Even the Nineteenth Amendment, which virtually doubled the size of the electorate, was often dismissed in a sentence or two. I finished the academic year at Judson, and in the fall of 1941 I began work on my doctorate at Vanderbilt University. I chose Vanderbilt because of its excellent reputation and because I was offered a fellowship. I have often said that my fellowship was a by-product of the Second World War. Prior to World War II it was generally believed that fellowships for women were poor investments. Graduate study was thought to be wasted on them because they would probably marry and devote their lives to their homes and families. In those days the prevailing notion was that married women could not and should not have careers. By 1940, however, it seemed likely that the United States would become involved in the Second World War. A peacetime draft was being instituted, and university administrators anticipated a shortage of male students. Consequently, they became more receptive to female applicants. A sprinkling of women, one here and another there, began receiving fellowships. I was the only woman to receive a fellowship in the history department of Vanderbilt that year, and it has been said that mine was the first ever offered to a woman. I have never verified this statement, but it is quite likely true. When I told my professors that I wanted to write a dissertation on woman suffrage, they were surprised and a bit puzzled. After a brief period of hesitation, however, they agreed. My subject was indeed an unusual one for its time. In fact, my dissertation was one of the earliest , perhaps even the first, on woman suffrage. In spite of the novelty of my subject, the professors at Vanderbilt did not think of my dissertation as a pioneering effort in a new field. They...


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