Detroiter Amy Elliott Bragg was moved when she saw photos of Susan B. Anthony’s grave dotted with “I Voted” stickers earlier this election season. In the past week, Bragg, who blogs and writes about her city’s pre-20th-century history, has been visiting local graves of suffragists, photographing them, and posting the photos on her Instagram and Twitter accounts, using the hashtag #VisitASuffragist. The project is a calming reminder of the long view during a presidential election seething with toxic gender politics.
You, too, can visit a suffragist before Election Day, though it may take a little research jujitsu. Bragg lives in an area that happens to feature a few graves of well-known activists (Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth), but many other suffragists aren’t as well-remembered or easy to find. “Before I could start finding suffragists’ graves, I obviously had to figure out who I should be looking for, so I gave myself a crash course in Michigan suffrage history,” Bragg wrote to me. She looked at some books about regional and local women’s history, and scanned the website of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, putting together a list of names and basic biographical information.
Next, she looked those names up on FindAGrave.com. If a woman’s name didn’t turn up in their database, she tapped online newspaper archives for obituaries as well as Ancestry.com for death certificates, which sometimes mention place of burial. “If I really didn’t want to give up on a suffragist, I did the same bio / obit / death certificate search for a husband or family member, betting on the likelihood that a husband and wife will be buried together,” she wrote. With a cemetery name in hand, she could contact the cemetery office and ask them to look up the location of the grave.
Bragg has put together a Google Map marking the graves of suffragists she’s visited or researched in Michigan. If you don’t live in the area, you may already have a suffragist in mind to visit, or you might follow some of the same research steps Bragg took. (I found a number of likely women to visit in my own state by looking at the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame website, which has a search function that narrows down biographies of inductees by category, showing all of the suffrage activists in one view.)
“One hack around all of this research for folks who want to do this on their own: If you have a historic cemetery in your town, maybe just give them a call and ask if they know of any women suffragists (or other prominent women) buried at the cemetery,” Bragg added. “They might have a tour guide or researcher on the team who has already done the work for you!”
The graves Bragg has visited—with the exception of Parks’, which had a bouquet on it from a previous visitor—have been well-tended, but not necessarily covered with tributes. And so far, her own pilgrimages to the graves have been simple affairs. “I place a couple of stones on the graves, in the Jewish tradition. I’m not Jewish, but I like the humble gesture of ‘someone was here,’” she wrote. She might bring her own patriotic bouquet of flowers to a grave on Election Day, “along with my ‘I Voted’ sticker.”
Bragg found that the visits gave her a sense of continuity and calm. “There is something really grounding (no pun intended) about visiting these graves. These women were real, mortal people, who surely dealt with self-doubt and interpersonal drama and boring meetings and health problems,” she wrote. “Like anything that was ever accomplished in history, suffrage was accomplished by people, and it was messy and hard.”
“I loved learning about Lucia Voorhees Grimes, who was active in the women’s movement in the 1910s and 20s…and again in the 1970s,” Bragg wrote. “In 1974—she was 97 years old—she gave a speech in Detroit, at a rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and told the crowd: ‘Don’t rest on your oars. Keep working.’ I wish Lucia could have lived to be 139 to see this election happening. She would probably still be frustrated.”