clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

PRO-SUFFRAGE CARTOONS GOING ON DISPLAY IN D.C.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott gained national reputations leading the suffrage campaign that won American women the right to vote.

But cartoonists Lou Rogers, Nina Allender and Blanche Ames literally drew the nation's mothers, sisters and daughters into national politics."They knew that you can't argue against a picture," says Alice Sheppard, author of the book, "Cartooning for Suffrage."

"Lou always said that there were so many cartoonists on the other side that they felt they needed a cartoonist on their side."

The National Museum of Women in Arts will display 22 of the political cartoons in an exhibit marking the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The exhibit runs from Aug. 25 - the day before the anniversary - through Jan. 7.

The display attests to the power of political cartoons in the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s when many Americans were illiterate and political sketches adorned the front pages of newspapers and magazines.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast, for example, helped bring down Boss Tweed's New York political machine by depicting him as a corrupt and greedy official - often drawing him holding a fat bag of money and smoking a cigar.

"Thomas Nast once said . . . his constituents couldn't read, but they could see those . . . pictures," Sheppard said.

"This was sort of the week's entertainment," she added. "Now, people glance at cartoons and maybe get a chuckle. But back then there was a lot more meaning crammed into them. They influenced people."

The pro-suffrage cartoons most often appeared in magazines and newspapers written and published by women, said Priscilla Linn, curator of a suffrage exhibit traveling the country for the national League of Women Voters.

"The suffragists were very astute and used every form of publicity they could get their hands on," Linn said. "Their campaign appeared on fans, dolls, playing cards. They even had songs."

Male cartoonists often drew suffragists as unattractive old maids with thick spectacles and wielding battle axes, or portrayed them as too hysterical to vote. One featured a woman in a rocking chair, cradling a scroll named "the ballot." The text read, "Hugging a delusion."

About three dozen female cartoonists, with Rogers, Allender and Ames leading the way, answered with portraits of smart "modern women" seeking the vote to gain an equal voice in a male-run government.

The three lived in or near major U.S. cities - Washington for Al-len-der, Boston for Ames and New York for Rogers. As society ladies, they enjoyed privileged lives, but they fought for better education, birth control, jobs and living conditions for women of all classes.

One of Rogers' first published cartoons in 1912 showed a Statue-of-Libertyesque woman "tearing off the bonds" around her in the form of a rope that read "politics is no place for women."

To counter the caricatures of women, Rogers drew a 1914 cartoon depicting "Mr. Average Man" - a time bomb ready to explode at the dinner table after he is served a burnt steak.

A popular Allender cartoon from 1917 shows a women in bloomers standing outside a restaurant where Uncle Sam is being served at the "government table." The woman holds a sign: "Thanks. We want to sit at the table."

Ames showed the suffrage struggle as a continuing process for women's rights. In 1915, she drew a woman climbing out of a pit filled with greed, ignorance, injustice and prejudice. The woman had already climbed rungs labeled education, property, professions and business. She's reaching for the "votes for women" rung, followed by "true democracy."