Of all the varieties of suffrage memorabilia that were produced, perhaps the most popular among suffragists themselves was that of the suffrage postcard. One of the primary reasons for its popularity among activists was that the golden age of the post card, the period from 1902-1915 when post card collecting became an international past time, dovetailed quite conveniently with the final push on both sides of the Atlantic to achieve national suffrage legislation. In America the Woman’s Journal frequently published news, pictures, and advertisements of new cards as did its counterpart in England, Votes for Women. Two British organizations, the Suffrage Atelier and the Artists’ Suffrage League, which had been set up expressly to provide art work for the movement, created a number of fascinating art propaganda cards. Cards were produced in abundance not only by the suffragists themselves but also by commercial publishers. A close analysis of the themes and images of cards from both types of sources gives us an excellent picture of the issues, events, period responses to the suffrage cause.
The use of Allegorical Imagery in Suffrage Art was generally restricted to posters. The above cards, which all had poster counterparts, are among the fortunate exceptions. These same designs were used elsewhere on both Cinderella stamps and official letterhead. The card on the right was designed by Bertha Boye, who won $50 for first prize in a poster contest conducted by the College Equal Suffrage League during the successful 1911 campaign in California.
Official Suffrage Post Cards Because of the popularity of the post card among suffragists, many suffrage organizations, even some of the smaller groups, produced at least one card, sometimes promoting a suffrage argument, sometimes advertising the group itself, and sometimes combining both purposes. Sometimes individuals within those associations had their own cards printed, donating the proceeds from their sales to the cause. Alice Park, the California activist, for example had this card to the left made up that pictured a baby drinking milk along with a quotation from Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Park was an avid period collector of memorabilia, and her holdings are now part of the suffrage material at the University at Huntington. Gilman’s words underscore an argument advanced by suffragists who were replying to men who asserted that they did not need the vote. The suffragist response was that women needed the vote to be better mothers, that the health of children was their responsibility, and they could not adequately do the task without the franchise. Gilman was the feminist author of the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the novel Herland. She was also the editor of the suffrage related journal “The Fore-Runner.” Her aphoritic words were used on other suffrage cards such as this example distributed by the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. Other responses to anti-suffrage arguments against suffrage include this card from the Pennsylvania Limited Equal Suffrage League of Philadelphia which took up the proposition that women were too weak to engage in the rigors of political activity. It pointed out that no one considered women to weak or unsexed by cleaning, working in factories, becoming waitresses, or working in hospitals. Why should voting be any different? The card issued by Carrie Chapman Catt’s Woman Suffrage Party of New York may be unfortunate to modern sensibilities in its message–that women are demeaned by being classed among “paupers, lunatics, criminals, and idiots” as people who are denied the ballot. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was generally pro-suffrage, and many felt that female voting would lead to prohibition, which is why the liquor industry in America fought so vigorously to oppose the franchise. The card on the left issued by the W.C.T.U. of Iowa makes an emotional appeal to men, not about alcohol but about mother. How could a man legitimately deny the mother of his children the right to vote? The New York State Woman’s Suffrage Association took Theodore Roosevelt to task for his luke warm support of suffrage. In this Clifford Berryman cartoon, which graced the front page of one of its journals and was also made into a poster, Roosevelt issues his famous pronouncement, “Let the People Rule.” A group of women legitimately asks what they are if they are not permitted to share in that government of the people. Berryman was famous for his cartoon of Teddy Roosevelt as hunter in Africa forbidding his entourage from shooting a bear cub. From this cartoon, the teddy bear industry began. The Topeka Good Government Club and the California Political Equality League both issued cards in support of upcoming referenda in their respective states, the former using a quotation from Abraham Lincoln, the latter using the image of a medallion. Anti-suffrage groups generally did not produce much in the way of memorabilia, leaving the task of producing negative images of suffragists to private manufacturers. However, there were a few exceptions such as this card of a woman dressed in men’s clothing and hugging the “delusion” of the ballot insteadof a baby. It was published by Life Publishing Company and was issued by the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.
The English Canon of Post Cards featured much more in the way of highly graphic editorial illustrations than did their American counterparts. Part of the reason for this is that there were two groups set up exclusively to develop art for the campaign, the Artists’ Suffrage League and the Suffrage Atelier. The Artists’ Suffrage League was
founded in 1907 by Mary Loundes, who, along with other professional artists, donated works to the cause. In addition to banners and posters, the League produced at least twenty four different post cards. Although theoretically independent, the Artists’ League
contributed its work primarily to the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies, which also produced its own cards, independent of the League. The Suffrage Atelier, unlike the League, allowed amateurs into their organization as well as professionals, and did pay them a small percentage of the proceeds from the sale of their work. The Atelier was also non-affiliated but they maintained loose ties with the Women’s Freedom League.
Many of the post cards that they published do not bear their imprint so it is not always easy to determine if they were the source. Anywhere from fifty to seventy-five cards at one time or another have been attributed to them. Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Socia l and Political Union also published its own illustrated cards, primarily the work of an artist who signed himself “A Patriot” [Alfred Pease]. Other associations and individuals also published editorial cartoon cards. Most of these cards were issued in blank and white, but a few came in color. Occasionally cards were hand-colored.
The Presence of Children was quite common in American cards as illustrated in the examples below. Children provided an air of innocence to what otherwise could be a very fractious debate. They also transformed the issue into an aspect of mainstream culture, erasing what for some was a threatening change to their daily lives.
The first two cards pictured above are commercial ones, the last was part of a series distributed by the National American Woman Suffrage Association through its publishing arm. The artist was Emily Hall Chamberlain. Rose O’Neill, who created the Kewpies, also drew for this series.
Suffrage Sets In America, the most popular of commercial suffrage cards were those generally issued in sets of various numbers. Most of these sets took on an anti-suffrage and, at times, somewhat bemused attitude to the issue, although positive statements do certainly appear with some regularity. Compared to English sets, the tone was gentle, portraying the suffragist often as a naive ingenue, who was attractive, but out of her league when it came to accepting political and social responsibilities. These cards often showed a topsy-turvy world, and the resultant chaos once women achieved power and husbands were forced to do the housekeeping and child raising.. Sometimes the conflict was seen in terms of children’s interaction with one another, perhaps an attempt to deflate the controversy into a manageable form that would not offend potential customers for the cards. One of the more attractive and colorful sets was that of the “Suffragette Ticket” series of six in which young pretty women asked the onlooker would he vote for them for such offices as Mayor, Mail Man, Sheriff, Fire Chief, Judge, and Health Officer. Much the same approach to suffrage appears in a charcoal gray series of twenty-three called the “Suffragette Series” in which young women are imaged as chauffeurs, police officers, statesmen, lawyers, barbers, and train conductors. Walter Wellman also copyrighted a sixteen-card series in 1909 in which he painted a topsy-turvy world of attractive women attempting to act as men, in one case even having a female Teddy Roosevelt sweeping the slate clean and in another having a woman in evening clothes serving as “Generaless of the Army.” Other sets dealing with role reversals dealt with the trials and tribulations of men who were forced to take on the tasks of women now that the revolution had taken place. Perhaps the most heavily distributed was a set of twelve from the firm of Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company in 1909 that delineated men taking care of the children while the wife was off to the polls. This set was so popular that it was produced in three versions, one with a blue or red border, another in gold, and a third that was embossed. Am unknown publisher printed a set of at least seven different photographic cards in which a husband is forced not only to do the housework but must act as a maid to his wife and help her dress. The Cargill Company of Grand Rapids Michigan teamed up with the National American Woman Suffrage Association to issue a set of thirty cards, mostly in the form of aphorisms. The set was actually divided into two sets of fifteen cards each, and was introduced in conjunction with a line of suffrage jewelry manufactured by the Butler Company that used Cargill’s “Blot on the Escutcheon” icon (see the sample enamel watch fob that is pictured below next to the slogan card). Card number 111 of the Cargill set, pictured here, is far less frequently found than others in the set, with rumors that perhaps it was withdrawn because all suffragists did not necessarily agree with its sentiments.
Other sets not illustrated here include a group of twelve illustrated by Indiana artist Cobb Shinn and another group of twelve, issued by Barton and Spencer, featuring children engaged in pro and anti suffrage arguments.
A Socialist Card Despite the headline that suggests that this card was published after women had received the right to vote, it actually appeared in 1913, 7 years prior to the passage of the Federal Amendment extending the franchise to women. It was put out by
the editors of The Progressive Woman. The periodical first appeared in June of 1907 with the name The Socialist Woman. It was started up by Josephine Conger-Kaneko, who felt that Socialist men cared little about the specific issues that affected women, particularly concerning suffrage. When she changed the title of the journal in March of 1909 to The Progressive Woman, she issued a special suffrage edition. Over the next few years, she published poems and essays by such writers as Eugene Debs, Upton Sinclair, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The periodical was almost shut down in 1910 having run afoul of laws against obscenity when Conger Kaneko came out with another special issue exposing White Slavery. During its time, the magazine had a decent circulation, but it was underfunded. It reorganized in late 1913 as The Coming Nation, lasting another year before finally folding. This card was rubber stamped Nov. 1913 on the reverse. The illustration on the front of the card is signed by Barnet Braverman, who took over as editor during the final year of the magazine’s publication.
Valentine’s Day Cards were the most popular of all suffrage holiday cards, with the pro-message often being “Love Me, Love My Vote” as shown on the third card here, illustrated by the famous artist, Ellen Clapsaddle. However, there were more than a few cards where
men advised their sweethearts that they did not want a suffragette for a Valentine and where women assured hesitant men that they were after a relationship and not the vote. The latter sentiment is seen in the middle card displayed here.
American and British Anti-Suffrage Cards For the most part, American publishers were gentler than their English counterparts in the way that they presented negative images of both suffragists and the movement. While there certainly were a number of exceptions to the tone of these depictions, suffragists on American cards were often young and attractive, though misinformed, they did sometimes carry rolling pins and acted as suffragette Maggies to their long suffering husbands’ Jiggs but on the whole the marriage was viable, and, when not young and attractive, suffragettes still were not the grotesques seen on some British specimens. A George Washington might be horrified at a group of suffragists before him, but they carried an umbrella and a placard and not a hatchet. A woman might be arrested for her movement activities, but she and the policeman taking her in are drawn similarly, and she is not the “other,” some creature outside the norm. Husbands do have to do the housework, but they often seemed resigned to the state of affairs.
In English comic cards, there is often a celebration of violence towards the suffragettes, and activists themselves are also shown to engage in violence towards police. The very serious and health threatening force feeding of workers at Holloway Prison is treated as a source of amusement, something that the suffragette deserves. In one card, a suffragette’s head is put in a wooden vise to keep her quiet. In another, the Devil himself tries to run away from a suffragette, who apparently is more the embodiment of horror than he is. Often suffragettes in English cards are not simply plain, they are grotesque, the implication being that their ugliness and their ideology are interrelated. In one card, a pretty little girl evolves into an attractive coquette, but rapidly becomes plain and then downright ugly as she finds herself unmarried and, as a result, attracted to the movement. Another card depicts the rushing of Parliament, an event that actually took place on October 12, 1908. The political importance of the event is undermined by the presentation of activists as crazed dowagers wielding umbrella weapons. Clearly the assumption of these cards is that normal women marry and settle into “traditional” roles; the suffragette is not normal, she is a genderless creature whose beliefs and appearance set her outside the general order. But she is frightening and dangerous at times. Perhaps the differences in the way the suffrage movement is depicted between American and English cards is derived in part from the violence that was inherent in the tactics of some of the English groups, who set fire to churches and other buildings, place bombs in mailboxes, poured acid on golf greens, and broke shop windows with their hammers.
Professor June Purvis of the University of Portsmouth has written an interesting article on the use of anti-suffragette English cards to “denigrate women fighting for the vote” that appears in the August 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine. Unfortunately, her article is not on-line, although some of the images from it can be found at “Anti-Suffrage Postcards,” albeit without her penetrating analysis.
Real Photo Cards In 1903, Kodak developed a new camera, the No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, which used post card size film. This allowed photographs taken with the camera to be applied directly to a card. In 1907, the firm offered a service to the public where it would print post cards from any photograph that was sent in, the resultant product now termed a “Real Photo Card.” Many suffragists and the organizations that they represented took advantage of the process to film movement events and share them with other activists.
In the upper left card, you can see the truck that carried the suffrage Liberty Bell during the 1915 campaign in Pennsylvania. The card to the right captures the images of Alice Paul’s “Silent Sentinels,” the group of demonstrators who peacefully harassed President Wilson outside the White House Gates.
The woman pictured in the card to the left who is holding up a Connecticut banner alongside her two children is Mrs. M. Toscan Bennett of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, and neighbor of Katherine Hepburn, the Association’s President and mother of the actress. To the right of that card is an unknown suffragist holding up a Massachusetts’ poster. Quite often, individuals who appear on these cards are identified in pencil on the other side of the photograph. This is the case with the card in the lower left, which portrays Mrs. Maud Ballington Booth, the daughter-in-law of the founder of the Salvation Army. At other times, the individual or the event was identified on the front in white script as is the case on the card to the right, which portrays the Home Makers’ Contingent of the suffrage parade that marched during President Wilson’s inaugural festivities in March of 1913. This parade was also the subject of a number of commercial cards and series.
English Real Photo Post Cards In England, the distinction between a real photo and a commercially produced card was somewhat more blurred than it was in the United States. There were a number of local photographic studios whose owners produced what are considered by many to be a type of Real Photo card of suffrage events and sold the resulting product to the public. The owners of these studios include F. Kehrhahn, who was commissioned by Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union to record many of their activities, and H. Searjeant, who, like F. Kehrhahn, photographed the funeral of Emily Davison, the suffrage martyr who was killed when she jumped in front of the King’s horse, Anmer, at the Derby of June 4, 1913. Searjeant also published images of the suffrage procession of June 17, 1911 that preceded the Coronation of King George V. Perhaps the photographer whose products on behalf of the movement are the most sought after was Mrs. Albert (Christina) Broom. Broom began her career at the age of forty when her husband became permanently disabled after an accident and the family needed money. She captured events not only of the WSPU but of other suffrage associations as well from 1908 until the start of the First World War.
Some of the events that she photographed include the July 23, 1910 WSPU demonstration that ended at Hyde Park that is pictured on the left, the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies “Land’s End” Pilgrimage, which began on June 18, 1913 from Carlisle and ended in London and is pictured above, and the WSPU Exhibition and Sale of Work at the Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge in 1909. Because of the work of these and other photographers, there are many more English Real Photo cards than American, and it is possible to chart many of the major events of the progress of their movement entirely through their post cards. Pictured below is the H. Walters of Ipswitch card of demonstration protesting the force feeding of suffrage prisoners and a card from an unknown publisher promoting “Self Denial Week,” which was organized by the WSPU in 1908 under the premise that women who could not work for the cause could at least contribute funds by denying themselves one convenience for a week.
English Leader Cards Many of the English suffrage associations were far less reticent than their American counterparts in terms of promoting and celebrating their leaders. The Women’s Social and Political League and the Women’s Freedom League in particular produced numerous post cards illustrating their officers. Portraits of Emmeline Pankhurst of the WSPU and Charlotte Despard were quite common, but cards of lesser known figures of the movement, at least to Americans, include such activists as Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy, one of the earlier suffrage leaders, Patricia Woodlock, one of many hunger strikers, Flora Drummond, who acquired the title of “General” for appearing at the head of demonstrations dressed in epaulettes and a peaked hat, Elsie Howey, who was given several long prison sentences for her participation in “disturbances,” and Cecily Hamilton, an actress and active member in the Actresses’ Franchise League. These “leader” cards were sold in WSPU and WFL shops throughout England. That they were very popular as souvenirs is indicated by the fact that many of them were autographed by the activists so depicted as is the case with the Charlotte Despard card pictured here.
For more information about these and other American and English post cards, consult my forthcoming book from McFarland Press, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study.