New Frontiers: The South Carolina League of Women Voters in 1921

League of Women Voters 1921

The New Voter, 1921

The papers of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina is a keystone collection here at SCPC.  We often note that the League’s interests, so well reflected in its archives, touch on every issue of consequence impacting government and politics.  The collection description notes that the state League was formed in 1951 from three local leagues then existing in Charleston, Columbia, and Spartanburg.

This is not exactly true.  The work of its predecessor, the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League, helped see the passage in August 1920 of the 19th Amendment allowing women the vote.  Shortly thereafter, the Equal Suffrage League was renamed the South Carolina League of Women Voters.  In 1921, it published a seventy-four page booklet titled The New Voter.  We learned of this booklet just last week when we found a copy in an addition to the League collection donated by Laurel Suggs.


Barbara Moxon models her “vote” dress, 1970s

Laurel and her mother, Barbara Moxon, both served as state League president and have been League mainstays.  A patriotic dress made by Mrs. Moxon, and worn by her on countless election days, can be seen in our exhibit gallery.  Based on comments overheard by our staff, it is probably the most popular item on display.

The New Voter begins by laying out the new organization’s purpose – “to safeguard and advance the legal, industrial and educational rights of women and to raise the standard of American citizenship by working for a more intelligent electorate.”  It then lists nine resolutions the League intends to advocate to improve government.  These particularly aim to improve the status of women.  Among the measures addressed are equal pay and better support of child welfare and public schools.

The New Voter goes on to provide a tutorial on government and elections, describing in detail the primary and general election process, the laws affecting women, and the overall system of government at the federal, state and local levels.

League of Women Voters

A page of The New Voter spelling out “What Women May Accomplish”

This primer for our newly-enfranchised voters is remarkable both for its content and quality.  Much of it could have been written yesterday.  Parts, though, purely reflect the era in which it was written.

I had never before seen this booklet but assumed that a check of the Libraries’ catalog would show multiple copies, as it is rare to find a South Carolina imprint not already held by the South Caroliniana Library.  A careful search assisted by the Caroliniana staff resulted in no hits, anywhere in or outside of South Carolina.  The Suggs/Moxon copy may be the only extant copy of this fascinating booklet.

Given its importance in documenting the history of the suffrage movement in South Carolina, the Libraries will digitize the booklet and make it universally available through the South Carolina Digital Library.  Once digitized, the actual booklet will be added to the League’s collection.

League of Women Voters

A page of The New Voter describing the “Party Machinery”

This exciting find helps explain the great attraction of archival work.  Donors often possess an inspiring sense of history.  And they gladly share their treasures.  And on any given day, we might receive a gift that makes our minds race and our hearts sing.  The New Voter is just that type of gift.

A favorite section will give you a sense of the booklet:

The Machine – The Boss – The Ring 

The man who often, through force of will, superior skill, courage and personality controls the “MACHINE” is called the “BOSS,” and the small group of men in every party who manage the affairs of the party, often through selfish motives, is call the “RING.”  A striking illustration of the power exercised by a RING is given by the famous TWEED RING, which controlled the government of New York City for several years, during which time more than $100,000,000 was wasted or stolen from the City Treasury.

By Herb Hartsook

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