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Library of Congress Seeks Help Transcribing Suffragist Documents

Lyndsie Manusos

Senior Contributor

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in web production and content management. When she’s not nesting among her books and rough drafts, she’s chasing the baby while the dog watches in confused amusement. She lives with her family in a suburb of Indianapolis.

Fast typists, adept transcribers, and fearsome keyboard clackers, lend me your ears! The Library of Congress needs your help. The Smithsonian reported on July 30 that the Library seeks help transcribing more than 16,000 pages of suffragist diaries, letters, speeches, and other documents. All are available on the library’s crowdsourcing program, By the People, and they’re hoping volunteers will help in the effort to bring more suffragist stories to light.

Women’s suffrage consisted of the fight for equality and women’s voting rights. You may have heard of the powerful slogan “Women, Their Rights, and Nothing Less.” Suffragists were literary activists as well as reformers, and Book Riot covered many notable writes from the movement in this fantastic list.

The Library of Congress seeks to shed light on both recognizable and unknown individuals who took part in the movement by transcribing correspondence, diaries, and other documents to its website.

Transcription Campaigns

The Library has done previous “campaigns” in the past. Volunteers have transcribed documents from famous figures such as Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, and others. The suffrage campaign is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment—the women’s right to vote—passed by Congress in June 1919.

Anyone is able to participate in the transcription campaign, so crack your knuckles and yoga-stretch your fingers, because there’s still a lot of work to do! At the time of this post, there are more than 1,000 contributors to the project, with about 4,000 completed transcriptions, yet more than 29,000 (assuming these are transcriptions and not necessarily full pages) have not been started. Many papers included are those of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others.

Steps Of The Transcription Process

  1. You can sign up to help in the crowdsourcing program, By the People, and from there, you can read up on proper transcription conventions. Caution for all you grammarians out there: the Library asks that you keep the original spelling, punctuation, and word order of the documents.
  2. Pages need to be approved after being transcribed. Another registered volunteer will review and approve the document. You cannot review the same pages you transcribe. Think of it as peer editing. When reviewing other transcribed work, By the People includes a forum where you can ask others for advice on any issues that come up.
  3. Once approved by a reviewer, the document is added to the Library’s site. In the Smithsonian article, Lauren Algee, By the People’s senior innovation specialist, said the model is similar to Wikipedia’s.

New Suffragist Voices

In addition to the Suffragists many know, the Library also seeks to give voice to lesser known reformers. For example, the Smithsonian  mentions correspondence from Anna E. Dickinson. Being an activist and actor, Dickinson was also a mountain climber. She scaled Colorado’s Pikes Peak and other summits. According to the Smithsonian article, Dickinson was also forcibly committed to the State Hospital for the Insane in Pennsylvania. Luckily, she was soon released. Dickinson later sued family members and the newspapers that covered the incident. So OMG where can I find a biography for Anna!?

After diving into Anna’s papers on the crowdsourcing site, I may very well get down to business transcribing myself. If I’m as excited about this as I think I am, I may also need to buy one of those foam wrist pads for my computer. Am I the only one that adores reading old letters and newspapers?

More Info on the Library of Congress

Hopefully more figures will come to light from this campaign, and campaigns announced in the future. The Library of Congress continues to be a beacon shedding light on knowledge and reminding us of the country’s history. Book Riot has published numerous articles on the Library of Congress, including how to get a Library of Congress reader’s card, and visiting tips. And you can always assist the Library with other campaigns, which are all listed on the crowdsourcing site.