Going to the Polls

Words by Julia B. Nelson; tune "Comin' Thro' the Rye," 1884

What is the message of this song? Who is this song appealing to? Why?

What argument is the song making? What justice were women seeking in the 1880s/1890s? How long had the women's rights movement been working for suffrage? The Seneca Falls Convention, where pioneering feminists first asked for women's right to vote, was in 1848.

How long was it before women won the right to vote? In the West, where local populations were often smaller and women needed to fill public roles, women won the right to vote and own property before they did in the older states. Nationwide women’s suffrage was achieved in 1920, although many women (and men) of color continued to be denied the right to vote until Civil Rights legislation removed barriers in the 1960s.

Why do you think it took so long for women to win the right to vote?

In what ways were temperance and suffrage sentiments related?

Which song is more effective? Why? Why did the authors choose to recycle "America" (originally borrowed from "God Save the King") instead of another tune or an original tune?

"Going to the Polls" performed by Elizabeth King and Sol Julty on Songs of the Suffragettes, Folkways 05281, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, © 1958. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

In this recording a solo female voice sings with simple guitar accompaniment, as it may have been heard in a suffragist's home.

View the music and lyrics for "Going to the Polls."

Julia B. Nelson
Julia B. Nelson, ca. 1866.

Like Elizabeth Harbert, author of "The New America," Julia B. Nelson (1842–1914) was an activist in the women's suffrage movement. She was a charter member and later president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, which began in 1881. Widowed young, Nelson turned her energy toward teaching, particularly in the poorer areas of the South, and became active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, eventually becoming a paid organizer. Her strong anti-liquor sentiments are reflected in the words to this song.

Compare this song to:

"The New America" (this unit)

"Women's Doxology" (Unit 6)

suffrage: The right or privilege of voting.

temperance: A movement to abstain from drinking liquor.

Gog and Magog: In the Bible, hostile powers ruled by Satan that will appear before the end of the world.

Research the "Declaration of Sentiments" (patterned on the Declaration of Independence) that was passed at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Make a "report card" listing each of the nine "sentiments" and make two columns labeled "1890" and "Present." Grade the United States on each of the sentiments during that era and during the present. How far have we come? How far do we still have to go?