by Kacy Rohn, Graduate Assistant Intern
From February 7 to 13, 1906, thousands of activists from across the country gathered at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore to galvanize the movement for women’s suffrage. Leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) arranged a busy program of speeches, musical performances, and prayer services that filled the theater. Despite this momentous gathering, our understanding of the Lyric’s historic significance lacks any reference to the women’s suffrage movement (as seen in our documentation of the site). This forgotten milestone is a prominent example of the hidden history of women’s suffrage that exists at many historic sites across Maryland.
NAWSA members assembled at the Lyric at a critical time. The founding women were aging out of active work and needed new recruits. The convention program reflects NAWSA’s deliberate attempts to attract a diverse body of new activists, pursuing working women one day, college women the next. Notably absent from the range of targeted invitees were African American women, who were also fighting for the vote but were largely excluded from the white women’s movement.
Elderly suffragists Clara Barton, Julia Ward Howe, and Susan B. Anthony gathered for their last convention together at the Lyric. Anthony, 86 years old and in failing health, delivered an address on College Night in which she recounted the “long galaxy of great women” who had come before her. She charged the college students to carry on the mission: “The fight must not cease; you must see that it does not stop.” These words were some of the last that she spoke in public before her death that March.
The Maryland women who organized the 1906 NAWSA convention claimed it as the first real success of the state’s suffrage movement and capitalized on this momentum by expanding their work across the state. They continued to campaign for the vote until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
[Note: Edited on Sept. 12, 2017 with a photo replacement and updated caption.]