Volunteers needed to transcribe suffragist material for the Library of Congress

I’m again asking you to consider doing something, but it doesn’t involve giving money. Rather, as Mental Floss notes, the U.S. Library of Congress is looking for volunteers to transcribe suffragist materials, putting them into text that can be searched.

There are more than 16,000 pages of such documents, forming an important part of American history. They’ve all been scanned to be saved, but a scanned document can’t usually be searched for specific words or phrases. Everything needs to be typed out into searchable formats.

This is where the public comes in. As the Mental Floss post says:

The current suffrage campaign coincides with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which Congress passed in June 1919. Women officially gained the right to vote in 1920, when the amendment was ratified.

The Library of Congress’s collection includes letters, speeches, newspaper articles, personal diaries, and other materials from famed suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as well as lesser-known activists. It includes accounts from Carrie Chapman Catt, who took over for Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, about her experiences at the Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Rome. It also includes letters from actor and mountain-climber Anna E. Dickinson illuminating the familial conflict that arose after her sister committed her to a Pennsylvania asylum. And there’s the diaries of Mary Church Terrell, a founder of the National Association of Colored Women, which shed light on minorities’ laborious suffrage struggles and her own dealings with Civil Rights figures like W.E.B. Du Bois.

Elizabeth Novara, an American women’s history specialist and curator of the Library of Congress’s new “Shall Not Be Denied” suffrage exhibition, told Smithsonian.com that she hopes the transcription endeavor will give people an opportunity to “engage with our collections and feel a connection with the suffragists.”

As of now, more than 4200 documents have already been transcribed, and there are thousands more to go—you can donate your time and typing skills to the project here.

(Note that that page also links to a lot of cool material that’s already been transribed, like what’s below):

Daybook and diary of Susan B. Anthony

And if you go to the linked page, you see a graph (below) showing that the project has completed less than a fifth of the documents that need transcription. It sounds like an interesting and useful job (wouldn’t you like to transcribe Susan B. Anthony’s letters?), and perhaps not an onerous one. So consider volunteering.

h/t: Ginger K.

8 Comments

  1. Posted August 6, 2019 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    There are ways to turn scanned documents into searchable text (OCR). The downside is that OCR often gets things wrong, so documents must be carefully edited to find the glitches. Nevertheless, I know of tens of thousands of pages of religious literature that has had this done, and big, useful, searchable libraries have been produced.

  2. Debbie Coplan
    Posted August 6, 2019 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I so appreciate this information and have forwarded it around to friends. I am trying to transcribe some of the documents, unfortunately my eyesight is problematic.
    Thank you for posting this information. Very appreciated.

  3. BJ
    Posted August 6, 2019 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    This would be a wonderful project to help, but I fear I wouldn’t be able to read much of the material. I have quite a bit of trouble with cursive writing from long ago. Still, it’s very good of you to post it. Thanks, Jerry.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 6, 2019 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Do you think they would allow a NZer to do this? I’ve done a bit of it in relation to my own ancestors, and would find this fascinating.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted August 7, 2019 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      Click the link! I just did. It lets you pick something to work on, and click through to a particular page, and actually start transcribing, no questions asked. There is also a registration that asks for email, but not other info.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted August 7, 2019 at 1:25 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the info. I’d imagined a much more formidable process, but one can select what piques one’s interest just plunge right in.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 8, 2019 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. (Sorry for delay.)

  5. Andrea Kenner
    Posted August 9, 2019 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I registered to help. This is really exciting to me. Thanks, Jerry!


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