Teaching History with Children’s Literature: Ballots for Belva


How many men in 1884 do you think would vote for a woman for president? Keep in mind that women didn’t even have the right to vote at this time.  None? Maybe a few? Meet Belva Lockwood – the very first woman to run for President.  Not only did Belva run for president against Grover Cleveland and James Blaine, she got votes!!! Belva received 4,711 votes from men who thought she should be president and these were only the votes that were actually tallied.  Many of the votes cast for Belva were simply thrown out, or given to another candidate as was the case in New York.  Belva received 1,336 votes in New York, all of which were given to Grover Cleveland who won the state of New York by only 1,149 votes.

Belva didn’t win the presidency, but she commanded the attention of so many people who, in turn, heard her important message about the importance of equal rights for women.  Ballots for Belva, The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, describes Belva briefly as a little girl with the dream and conviction that she could and would move mountains in her life.  She was 1 of only 2 women to complete the coursework at the law school The National University Law School and she personally demanded the diploma to which she was entitled from Ulysses S. Grant.

Belva Lockwood is an excellent female figure to incorporate into classroom curriculum and can also help students begin to understand that big changes in social-norm and politics can often take a very long time.  Belva was fighting for women’s rights in the 1880’s yet women didn’t even receive the right to vote until the 1920’s, almost 40 years later.

Curriculum Connections
Ballots for Belva would be a great way to introduce the beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement mentioned in the SOL USII.4.

Additional Resources

  • On Google Books, I found a book written in 1883 called, Fifty Years’ Recollections with Observations and Reflections on Historical events Giving Sketches of Eminent Citizens, Their Lives and Public Service, by Jeriah Bonham.  It includes a brief summary of her accomplishments up until 1883 – prior to her run for the presidency.  She was already considered a noteworthy citizen with great accomplishments before she managed to get on the ballots for the presidential election.
  • Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen provides a plethora of lesson ideas to go along with Ballots for Belva, and they are all free to download off her website.
  • BrainPop has a whole section on their site devoted to women’s suffrage rights.  This would be a great way to incorporate technology into the lessons.

Book: Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency
Author: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Illustrator: Courtney A. Martin
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2008
Pages: 32 Pages
Grade Range: 3-6
ISBN-13: 978-0810971103

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