By Rebekah Brown
When I applied for the History graduate program at BGSU, I had a general notion that I’d like to study what happened after the 19th Amendment ensured the right of women to vote in the United States. While I had lots of questions, like what citizenship education actually looked like or whether there was a generational gap in voting rates, spending time in various archives is what ultimately helped me develop a thesis topic. I took several trips to Columbus to visit the Ohio History Connection archives, which houses the Ohio League of Women Voters records. Since I was interested in post-suffrage women’s history, their 52-box collection seemed like a good place to start. Reading the minutes and publications of the OLWV helped me decide to frame my thesis as an investigation of the OLWV outreach to Ohio’s rural women in the 1920s.
The materials from the Ohio History Connection were extremely useful as I wrote my thesis prospectus the summer after my first year of the MA program and as I started to write draft chapters last fall. A challenge of writing a thesis-length project is knowing when to search out relevant sources in other archives and when to stick with your primary source base. Since the MA thesis is researched and written over a relatively short period of time, I had to be selective. Though there are post-suffrage collections in D.C., Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo, and more, my thesis advisor made sure I didn’t get too distracted following every interesting rabbit trail around to different archives instead of using that time to write with the material I already had.
Archivists are a wonderful resource when deciding which documents are worth your time. Since you don’t usually know exactly what’s in a collection until you read through it, communicating with archivists first can save you a lot of time and effort. By searching online, I found a collection of documents at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison called the Marion C. Neprud Papers, containing records from Neprud’s time as the State Organizer of the OLWV during the Twenties. Since driving to Wisconsin would have been financially prohibitive, I worked with an archivist at the WHS to identify which documents would be useful to my project and develop a budget for copying. A Graduate Research Grant from the History Department covered my costs of ordering those copies. Having digitized copies of some of the Neprud papers has helped me immensely as I continue to work on drafts of my thesis chapters.