Women have always been leaders in the movement for historic preservation. Until the late twentieth century, however, very few sites relating to women’s history—and even fewer relating to woman suffrage—were formally identified or preserved. Beginning the mid-nineteenth century, when Ann Pamela Cunningham and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association rescued George Washington’s home from decay, historic preservationists commemorated buildings associated with famous European American politicians and generals. Historic preservation seemed inconsequential to most women’s rights advocates. When Cunningham tried to enlist suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a lady manager of the association, Stanton urged that women work on women’s rights rather than historic house preservation: “Every energy of my body and soul is pledged to a higher and holier work than building monuments. . . . What mightier monument can we raise to the memory of Washington than to complete the pure temple of liberty.” Stanton did not foresee that her own house in Seneca Falls, New York, would one day be preserved as part of the first national park devoted to the telling of the story of women’s struggle to win the vote.
Until the late twentieth century, with few exceptions, historic preservation reinforced a historical narrative that excluded most women and people of color. That began to change in the 1960s, when the rise of social history coincided with new trends in historic preservation. Inspired by civil rights and feminist movements and the growing field of heritage tourism, historians and preservationists began to emphasize the importance of historic sites that reflected the lived experience of Americans of all races, classes, and genders. Many states, communities, and public and nonprofit agencies began to highlight women’s history sites, and a handful of these dealt with woman suffrage. Almost all of these related to the organized movement from 1848 to 1920, ignoring both suffrage efforts before 1848 and attempts to implement suffrage, especially for people of color, after 1920. Many sites recognized primarily for their association with other historical events, however, also began to incorporate the story of woman suffrage, recognizing a more inclusive definition of suffrage work.
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Around the turn of the twentieth century, three sites—one of them related directly to woman suffrage—challenged the primary historic preservation emphasis on military sites and great white men. In 1901, the Christian Science Church purchased the Mary Baker Eddy house in Lynn, Massachusetts, to preserve it as the home of the founder of a worldwide religion. In 1912, the United Women’s Club of Concord, Massachusetts, opened Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, to the public. The third exception, and the first related directly to woman suffrage, was the preservation of Frederick Douglass’s home at Cedar Hill in Washington, DC. (Figure 1)
By the 1920s, women became leaders in a new effort to preserve historic neighborhoods and communities, including buildings both grand and modest. Susan Pringle Frost was a pathbreaker. In 1920, she founded what became the Preservation Society of Charleston, the oldest locally based preservation organization in the United States. Like many preservationists, Frost was also an advocate of woman suffrage. But she did not translate her political interests into saving historic sites relating to suffrage. The first major historic site preserved primarily for its relationship to woman suffrage was the Susan B. Anthony home at 17 Madison Street in Rochester, New York. (Figure 2) Led by Martha Taylor Howard, the house was opened in 1945 as a memorial to Anthony and the suffrage movement.
By and large, however, in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century historic preservation ignored women. Even statues of women were rare. The Smithsonian Institution identified 5,575 outdoor sculptures of American historical figures. Only 200 of these, less than 4 percent, depicted women. Adelaide Johnson’s statue of Stanton, Anthony, and Lucretia Mott, created in 1920 for the National Woman’s Party, was immediately relegated to the basement of the US Capitol and only returned to the Rotunda in 1997. New York City’s Central Park erected a statue of Mother Goose in 1938, one of Alice in Wonderland in 1959, and a third of Juliet (and Romeo) in 1977, alongside those of twenty-two real men. A statue of Stanton and Anthony proposed by 2020 would represent the first commemoration of real women in Central Park.
In the late twentieth century, neglect of historic sites relating to women began to change. In 1960, Congress created the National Historic Landmarks program to mark exceptionally important buildings. In 1966, it passed a new historic preservation act, establishing both the National Register of Historic Places and State Historic Preservation Offices in every state. The new National Register’s criteria corresponded with the explosion of interest in social history and women’s history, inspired by movements for civil rights and women’s rights. History “from the bottom up” emphasized issues of gender, race, and class, highlighting the experience of all Americans. A new interest in women’s history emerged as part of an emphasis on the built environment and urban landscapes that included ordinary Americans.
These conferences acted as an incubator for a new organization. With assistance from the National Park Service, forty representatives of historic sites and organizations formed the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites to promote “the preservation and interpretation of sites and locales that bear witness to women’s participation in American life.” Heather Huyck, NPS historian and a member of the original steering committee, noted, “leaving women out of the story is as serious a distortion of our history as trying to tell the history of the Civil War without talking about Black history.” Preservation efforts focused on (1) publicizing existing women’s history sites, (2) identifying and preserving previously unmarked historic sites relating to women, and (3) interpreting women’s history at traditionally male-dominated sites. Though not focused on woman suffrage sites per se, these goals provided a context for suffrage as one theme among many.
In 1994, Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas published Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women's Landmarks, a revision of their American Woman’s Gazetteer (1976), to publicize existing women’s history sites. Several states and cities developed women’s history trails. Many states also developed women’s biographical collections and halls of fame, supplementing the National Women’s Hall of Fame, organized in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1969. In 1998, spurred by the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, the National Register initiated a travel guide, , which highlighted seventy-five sites in New York and Massachusetts. In 2009, Congress authorized the , introduced by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, but the trail never received funding.
The National Historic Landmarks program also promoted sites relating to major woman suffrage leaders. In 1965, the home of both Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls and Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, New York, became National Historic Landmarks. More sites followed: Harriet Tubman in Auburn, New York (1974 and 2001), Madam C. J. Walker in Irvington, New York (1976), Mary Ann Shadd Cary in Washington, DC (1976), Alice Paul in Mount Laurel, New Jersey (1991), Gerrit Smith in Peterboro, New York (2001), Carrie Chapman Catt in Charles City, Iowa, and New Castle, New York, and Abigail Scott Duniway in Portland, Oregon. In 2012, the NPS held a conference at the Belmont-Paul House in Washington, DC, cosponsored with the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, to consider how women’s stories could best be included as National Historic Landmarks. As a result of that effort, seven more women’s history sites were added to the National Historic Landmarks program.
By 2000, the National Park Service had opened seven parks related specifically to women, including, in 1980, one focused explicitly on woman suffrage: Women’s Rights National Historical Park commemorates the first women’s rights convention, held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. (Figure 6) By 2018, the National Park Service had added three more sites dealing specifically with women. One, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (formerly the Sewall-Belmont House), headquarters for the National Woman’s Party, related specifically to suffrage. It was designated a National Monument in 2016.
Despite these efforts, the number of historic sites related specifically to women remained only a small proportion of the whole, and the number of sites that dealt with suffrage was even smaller. The ten national parks that dealt directly with women, for example, made up 20 percent of the fifty-one national historical parks in the National Park Service. Only two of these—Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument—dealt directly with woman suffrage. Of the seven women’s history sites listed as National Historic Landmarks since 2011, only two—the homes of Frances Perkins and Marjory Stoneman Douglas—were linked to suffragists. The pattern was repeated at the state level. In New York State, for example, only one state park, Sonnenberg Gardens, related directly to a woman. None dealt specifically with woman suffrage. The National Register’s “Places Where Women Made History” listed thirty-five sites in New York, eight of which related to suffrage. Five of these were part of Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.
Interpreting women’s history at historic sites relating primarily to men offers a model for interpreting woman suffrage at a wide variety of historic sites preserved for unrelated reasons. Helen Keller, for example (whose birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama, is listed as a National Historic Landmark), spoke out for woman suffrage as well as for socialism, workers’ rights, and blind and deaf people. Frances Perkins, best known for her work as secretary of labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, grew up in a suffrage family and gave suffrage speeches herself. Perkins’s house in Washington, DC, became a National Historic Landmark in 1991, and her family home in Newcastle, Maine, was listed in 2014. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is best known for her work as the author of The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), but she also championed racial justice, women’s rights, and woman suffrage, giving a suffrage speech before the Florida house of representatives in 1916. Her home in Coconut Grove, Florida, was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 2015.
And then there is Frederick Douglass. Although the National Park Service includes Douglass’s work for women’s rights in its interpretation of Cedar Hill, suffrage historians have not highlighted Douglass’s home as a suffrage site. They should. Douglass consistently supported suffrage for women as well as African Americans, beginning at Seneca Falls in 1848. “We know of no truth more easily made appreciable to human thought than the right of woman to vote, or in other words, to have a voice in the Government under which she lives and to which she owes allegiance,” he asserted in 1870. He never deviated from that position and found, as he said in 1888, “a little nobility in the act” of supporting women’s rights.
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Renewed interest in the suffrage movement, centered around the one-hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, offers an opportunity to add to the list of known suffrage sites. The woman suffrage movement began much earlier than 1848 and lasted far beyond 1920, and it extended to US territories such as Puerto Rico. Margaret Brent asked for a vote in the Maryland colonial assembly in 1648. After 1920, attempts to implement suffrage for both men and women often resulted in violent confrontations, especially for African Americans in the South. Not until 1935 did woman suffrage become legal for all Puerto Rican women. In 1962, New Mexico was the last state to enfranchise Native Americans. Asian American immigrants were routinely denied citizenship until 1952. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped protect suffrage everywhere, but in Shelby v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. 
Historic sites related to women’s suffrage from the earliest years to the present offer inspiration from the past and guideposts toward the future. Celebrating passage of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920, Carrie Chapman Catt declared, “Women have suffered agony of soul which you can never comprehend, that you and your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it!” Historic sites related to woman suffrage remind us to prize that vote—for women and for all citizens of our democracy.
 National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites; Polly Welts Kaufman, National Parks and the Woman’s Voice: A History, updated ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006), xxii.
 Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women’s Landmarks (New York: Times Books, 1994); “Places Where Women Made History,” National Park Service; Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail; Connecticut Women’s Heritage Trail; Florida Women’s Heritage Trail; Maryland Women’s Heritage Trail; New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Women’s Heritage Trail; Boston Women’s Heritage Trail; “Women,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture; South Carolina, Special Women from Our State; Votes for Women History Trail; Ellen Carlson, National Park Service, Women’s History Trail Feasibility Study, 2003.
Dubrow, Gail Lee, and Jennifer B. Goodman, eds. Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
Huyck, Heather, and Peg Stobel, eds., Revealing Women’s History: Best Practices at Historic Sites. Ukiah, CA: National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, 2011.
Kaufman, Polly Welts, and Katharine T. Corbett, eds. Her Past around Us: Interpreting Sites for Women’s History. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 2003.
Miller, Page Putnam. Landmarks of American Women’s History. New York: Oxford, 2003.
National Collaborative of Women’s History Sites.
National Historic Landmarks: Six-Year Progress Report, 2011–2016. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 2016.
National Register of Historic Places. “Places Where Women Made History.”
NHL Women’s History Progress Report. (NHL is currently working on this site, and these reports were not online as of September 11, 2018.)
Sherr, Lynn, and Jurate Kazickas. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women’s Landmarks. New York: Times Books, 1994.
Telling the Whole Story: Women and the Making of the United States. [Washington, DC?]: National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, 2013.