Unsung Voices: Black Women and Their Role in Women's Suffrage


This lesson seeks to explore the role of Black women in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and their exclusion from the generally accepted Women’s Suffrage narrative. Students will examine primary and secondary sources to explore some of the unsung heroes of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the contributions of these unsung heroes to the movement. As a summative assessment, students will create an exhibit detailing the contributions of a Black Suffragist.  


Two to three 55-minute class sessions with an assessment, and homework 

  • Students will independently complete a reading to familiarize themselves with the role that Black women played in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and provide appropriate historical context. 

  • Students will read a biography of Fannie Barrier Williams and discuss her contributions to the Women’s Suffrage movement and her efforts to make the movement more inclusive.  

  • Students will examine primary source documents and determine how historical context, intended audience, author’s purpose, and/or the author’s point of view might have influenced the documents. 

  • Students will independently research the life and contributions of a Black suffragists and create a mock museum exhibit to present this research.  


Students should be familiar with the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States and the women who are often associated with the movement. 


Pre-lesson (Expected time: 5-10 minutes)

  • First, teacher will explain to students that they will be exploring the lesser-known voices of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. To do so, students will be reading a variety of articles and primary sources. Teacher should allow for time for students to ask questions about the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  

Warm-up (Expected time: 15-20 minutes)

  • As a warm-up, students will be asked to complete Task #1 by independently reading the Background article (in handouts). The teacher should explain to students that they should read the discussion questions (below the article) prior to reading the article and should consider these questions as they are reading. The teacher should project or write the questions onto the board as students are reading the article.  
  • Discussion Questions: 
    1. In what ways were Black women excluded from the Women’s Suffrage Movement? 

    2. Why might Black women in the 19th and 20th centuries be more inclined to focus on universal suffrage rather than simply voting rights for women? 

    3. In addition to working with mainstream suffrage organizations, why might Black women choose to form additional clubs and organizations?  

      After giving time for students to read the article (5-10 minutes), students should discuss their answers to the discussion questions with a partner. After students have shared with a partner, the discussion questions can be discussed in a whole class format. Key points that should come up in discussion based on the questions should be the exclusivity of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the unique situation facing Black Suffragists who were simultaneously working for civil rights as well as the right to vote. 

Learning Activity (Expected time: 25-35 minutes)  

  • Next, the teacher will explain that students will perform a case study of a Black activist, Fannie Barrie Williams. Students will complete Task #2 (in handouts) by independently reading the biography and answering questions that help them understand William’s experiences with and connections to the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  

  • After students have completed Task #2, the teacher will break the class into small groups to complete Task #3 (in handouts). In small groups, students will closely read two primary sources. Each group of students will work together to develop a written response to each of the six document questions. Document 1, an excerpt from a speech given by Fannie Barrier Williams, demonstrates a call for unity within the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Document 2, an excerpt from a magazine article written by Williams, demonstrates the continued lack of unity and inclusivity within the Women’s Suffrage Movement. 

Debrief (Expected time: 10-15 minutes) 

  • After students have completed Task #3, the teacher will bring students back together as a whole class to discuss the documents and questions. Key points that should come up during discussion are the lack of unity within the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Additional discussion questions might include asking students why they think this lack of unity existed within the movement. 

  • After the debrief, teacher should begin explaining the assessment to students. Time permitting, students should begin this assessment in class and complete the assessment for homework.  


Assessment / Homework

The teacher will explain to students that they will now be completing their own research on another Black Suffragist. Students may choose from the list of people below or may research on someone not listed.  

Research Choices: 

  • Mary Ann Shadd Cary 

  • Charlotte Forten Grimke 

  • Mary Church Terrell 

  • Septima Poinsette Clark 

  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett 

  • Nannie Helen Burroughs  

  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 

Students will create a brief “museum exhibit” of their chosen Suffragist. Students may create a website, a short video, PowerPoint, or may produce a physical project (for example, a small poster board). 

Students exhibit MUST include: 

  • Chosen Subject’s name and biographical information  

  • Date & location of birth 

  • Date of death, if applicable 

  • Information about subject’s education and other notable life events 

  • Chosen Subject’s connection and contribution to the Women’s Suffrage Movement 

  • This information should be thorough and detailed- how did this woman help to gain voting rights for women? 

  • Exhibit must include at least one relevant picture 

Any additional information beyond the above must-haves are welcome! 


C3 Framework Standards:  

D2.His.4.9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras. 

D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context. 

D2.His.1.9-12 Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts. 

Common Core Standards: 


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole. 


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. 


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.