Before the days when you could digitally preserve all musings and messages by uploading them automatically to the cloud, people just wrote everything by hand and hoped they didn’t drop their papers in a puddle. Luckily, plenty of important historical documents survived long enough for historians to archive them. Now, the Library of Congress has some 16,000 historic papers related to the women’s rights movement alone—and they’re asking volunteers to help transcribe them, Smithsonian.com reports.
The Library of Congress has already scanned the original documents into a digital library, but if you’ve ever tried to use a computer to search for a word in a scanned source, you know that it’s not easy to do—especially since decades-old documents often make for blurry scans that are difficult to decipher. So last year, the Library of Congress launched a crowdsourcing platform called By the People, asking the public to help type up written documents word for word, which will make it easier to find and read original sources.
Past campaigns have focused on papers related to Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, and more. 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.