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Timely history project illuminates the present

June 30, 2020

2019-2020 brought both celebrations and challenges to the nation. It was a year of preparations for the centenary of woman suffrage, but also a year of racial injustice and reckoning, and the beginning of a public health and economic crisis. With their focus on the history of social reform, charitable organizations, and government programs to promote the Common Good, VCU Libraries’ Social Welfare History Project and the companion Image Portal were well positioned to serve as resources for students and the general public.

Throughout the year, numerous articles were posted to the History Project and dozens of new documents and images were added to the Image Portal by VCU Libraries and its institutional partners. 

Both the History Project and Image Portal continue to be freely available and used extensively -- visited approximately 5,000 times each week day. Beginning in summer, an increase in links to the site from learning management systems pointed to the Social Welfare History Project’s usefulness as a resource for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some items of interest published in the Social Welfare History Project:

The Social Welfare History Image Portal added four Discovery Sets (mini-exhibits):  

In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, new primary sources related to women’s history included

  • Photographs from the May 1, 1915 suffrage rally during which members of the Equal Suffrage League gave speeches from inside their car because the mayor refused to issue a permit for them to gather on city streets. Also posted is the permit the ESL successfully secured the following month.
  • Numerous woman suffrage periodicals. Researchers expressed particular interest in images VCU Libraries had posted of  woman cartoonists such as Blanche Ames Ames, Lou Rogers, and May Wilson Preston. 
  • Numerous photographs and ephemera from the Richmond Exchange for Woman’s Work, the first woman’s shop established in Richmond (1883) “to assist ladies who…felt their privacy would be violated and their pride tarnished if the public knew they were forced to work for money.”  These items were contributed by The Valentine and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

 A number of documents related to voting rights, civil rights, and African American history

  • Union Presbyterian Seminary shared a series of pamphlets from the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an organization formed in 1919 to oppose lynching and promote interracial dialogue and cooperation.  
  • VCU Libraries and Image Portal partners opened their collections to share documents from the history of African Americans and Black and white citizens’ efforts to improve education and public health, and overcome voter suppression. Newly digitized documents from the complicated and painful history of white supremacy were also made available on the Image Portal.      

With public interest in the upcoming election and the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, The Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries, and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture contributed materials related to voting rights, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and opposition to the VRA by the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government.

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