Woman Suffrage Buttons
One of the more popular forms of suffrage artifacts was the button or badge. Most of the larger and many of the smaller organizations produced buttons of some sort, generally emblazoned with their official colors. While some of these buttons were generic, they often were manufactured for a particular campaign such as the 1911 campaign in California or the Empire State Campaign in New York. There are period references to the fact that many suffragists collected them and advertised for varieties that they did not have. Moreover, many suffrage buttons embody interesting stories about their creation, theirslogans, and their general use. Here are a few examples.
The Ballots for Both button was the winning entry in a contest sponsored by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Dr. Eleanor M. Hiestand-Moore of Philadelphia coined the phrase when she was campaigning in her home city in 1915. She had confronted an angry Italian immigrant, who, misinterpreting the cry of “Votes for Women,” assumed that the suffragists were attempting to deny him the vote because he was a man. Her response to avoid such confusion in the future was to promote this substitute slogan. Although NAWSA printed the slogan into the form of a pin, it never really caught on as a major campaign theme.
The idea behind the slogan I am a Voter came from Jeanette Rankin of Montana, who was the first female elected to Congress. Rankin believed that the button might have special resonance at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 if worn by women from those Western States where women had the right to vote. The idea was “to make the visitors from the conservative Eastern States realize, though visual aid, there are thousands and thousands of well-groomed, happy, sensible women who actually vote.”
The Clarion button pictured here was the product of the Women’s Political Union, formed by Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It employs the purple, green, and white colors of Emmeline Pankhurst’s English organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union, and adapts the “Bugler Girl” design created by Caroline Watts for the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies. The button’s colorful nature and its militant figure reflect the more activist approach to suffrage on the part of the WPU as opposed to that of its more conservative counterpart, the National American Woman Suffrage Association. This pin comes in two varieties, one with a twelve starred flag and the other with thirteen, indicating the number of suffrage states at the time. Earlier, the WPU used a design that was closer to Watt’s original, consisting of four distinct varieties, one with five stars, one with six, one with eleven, and a smaller pin where the tag line of “Votes for Women”was replaced by that of “Equal Suffrage” and which contained ten stars on the suffrage flag.
This oval shaped button that proclaims Suffrage First was distributed by the Woman Suffrage Party of New York. The slogan was promoted by Carrie Chapman Catt, who criticized those who would ask of women to take up other tasks before suffrage. At a meeting at the Hotel Astor in New York, she pointed to the badge that she was wearing and exhorted the crowd: “Let us take this little button and make its slogan our own: ‘Suffrage First’.”
The Suffrage Plank button was produced by the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, of which Katharine Hepburn’s mother was President for a time. It was probably distributed at a rally in New Haven on September 19, 1916, the date of the Democratic State Convention in that city. The national Republican, Democratic, Progressive, Socialist, and Prohibition Parties had in that year all adopted platforms or “planks” endorsing suffrage, and local activists were attempting to get similar pledges from State organizations. The CWSA also held an earlier rally in the city on September 5, prior to the Republican Convention, but it contained less pageantry and spectacle and no counterpart button was manufactured.
The May 2 Button, manufactured by Lopez Brothers of School Street in Boston, has caused some confusion among collectors who have questioned its meaning. It was issued for National Suffrage Day in 1914, an event organized by Alice Paul, then of the Congressional Union. The idea was to bring women from across the country to participate in a coordinated set of suffrage rallies and parades, followed up by another rally in Washington, D.C the following week to present a petition in support of a Federal Amendment. This pin was issued for the Boston rally, one of the largest of the demonstrations that day in the country and the first suffrage parade ever held in Massachusetts. An estimated 9000-15,000 marchers took part in front of 200,000-300,000 spectators. Among the politicians reviewing and observing the event were Governor Walsh, Lt. Governor Barry, former Mayor “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, and Mayor James Michael Curley.
The two 1 1/4″ celluloid buttons pictured on the left were issued by the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey, which was originally established as the Equality League for Self-Supporting Women by Mina C. Winkle, a friend of Harriot Stanton Blatch. Winkle modified the name and color scheme of
Blatch’s Women”s Political Union for her own group and issued a variety of colorful and iconographic memorabilia, including stamps, letter sheets, and posters. The WPUNJ was in existence from 1912-1916, when it merged with the larger New Jersey Woman’s Suffrage Association. The green button was also a WPUNJ issue. There are no identifying marks or back papers to identify the organization behind the other two New Jersey pins, but their colors suggest that they may have been produced by the New Jersey Women’s Suffrage Association.
The celluloid novelty distributed by Alva Belmont’s Political Equality Association pictured here is the only known pocket mirror produced for the campaign. During the early part of the 20th century, celluloid mirrors were an extremely popular form of giveaway among merchants and advertisers but for some reason never caught on among the suffragists. The dark blue color of this piece is reflective of the official color of the Association, which Alva Belmont, the assertive founder and President of the Association, refused to wear during marches. The design of the winged herald also appears on a 1 1/4″ celluloid button. The six stars on the herald’s flag indicated that this mirror was made after California became in 1911 the sixth state to grant full voting rights to for women. The mirror was made from the same papers that were used in the production of a badge issued by the Association. When the button was made, the white border to the design that you can see on the mirror, was cut away. Belmont was a Newport, R.I. socialite, whose money helped to fund many pro-suffrage causes. However, what was perceived by some to be an imperious attitude, alienated many in the suffrage movement. It was through her financial assistance that the National American Woman Suffrage Association was able to move its headquarters from Warren, Ohio to New York City.
The Wage Earner’s Suffrage League was founded in San Francisco in 1908 by Louise LaRue, head of Waitresses Local #48, when working women felt that the middle class women involved in the suffrage campaign neither understood or appreciated their situation. She was assisted in her efforts by Minna O’Donnell, who was able to tie-in the vigorous support of labor to the suffrage movement. The two were later joined by Maud Younger, who helped heal the division between middle class and working class women. The League’s efforts undoubtedly helped the pro-suffrage forces win a thin majority in the working class neighborhoods of San Francisco in the successful statewide franchise referendum in 1911. The issue appeared on the ballot among various other initiatives as “Amendment 8,” and a small celluloid pin was issued to alert voters. The gold color of this small pin probably was influenced by the official yellow (or gold) color that was associated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association. There is at least one other pin similar in design that was used to promote another one of the amendments up for voters’ approval that year.
One of the First Suffrage Buttons Around 1896, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) adopted a new logo, that of a sunflower with the date of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 printed in the center. It appeared on stationary, literature and handbooks, and on this stickpin. The pin may be the earliest known American button or badge apart from another stickpin featuring the scales of justice and equality, probably issued in the 1880’s in South Dakota. The sunflower design was adapted from the 1867 Kansas campaign where local supporters wore yellow ribbons in commemoration of both suffrage and the state flower. What is interesting about the pin here is that the center is ruby red, not the yellow of either the sunflower or of what was by now the official color of NAWSA. Several decades later, NAWSA distributed a commemorative celluloid button seen above that once again featured this 1848 sunflower design.
Illinois Equal Suffrage Association Most suffrage buttons were small in size, ranging from approximately 5/8″ in diameter to 1 1/4″. These badges, both from Illinois, measuring 2 1/4″, are clearly exceptions. Most celluloid buttons of the period, whether they were issued for political campaigns, advertising, or for a cause, tended to be small, unlike the 3 1/2″ designs that stand out today. Both badges probably were issued for a State convention or for local rallies rather than for everyday wear. Their yellow color was reflective of the official colors of the mainstream suffrage organizations rather than the purple, green, and white that some of the more militant organizations adopted from the English Women’s Social and Political Union. Illinois women produced several other pins with variant slogans and colors, all with a design of nine or ten stars each, the first number symbolizing those states that had granted women equal voting rights at the time of issue, the second, the hopes of Illinois women that their state would be next. These small pins were sold at ten cents per dozen. In addition to these star items, Illinois suffragists issued a blue flag pin with a yellow background that once again came in versions with both nine and ten stars. Illinois Women were given the right to vote by an act passed by both houses of the State Legislature in 1913, partly as the result of the hard work done by suffragist Grace Wilbur Trout. Women could now vote for Presidential electors and for all local offices not specifically named in the Illinois Constitution. In addition, they could not vote for state representative, congressman or governor; and they still had to use separate ballots and ballot boxes (see section on this site about ballot boxes). But by virtue of this law, Illinois had become the first state east of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote for President.
Emmeline Pankhurst The English were far less reticent than their American counterparts about picturing their current leaders on suffrage memorabilia, and they sold buttons and post cards with their images affixed thereon at suffrage shops throughout the country. American suffragists did adapt photographs of such activists as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Anna Howard Shaw for buttons and badges, but these were generally memorial pieces or convention items that were not distributed to the public. The first of the two buttons here picturing Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the WSPU, was part of a set of three that included her daughter Christabel and journal editor Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. They were sold for one penny each. The more elaborate button with ribbons, also picturing Mrs. Pankhurst, sold for 5 d. There were no Christabel or Pethick Lawrence versions of this more expensive badge. In addition, the WSPU sold a number of various postcards picturing Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Most of the WSPU badges were manufactured by Toye and Company or by the Merchants’ Portrait Company, which touted itself as “Makers of the WSPU badge.”
Carrie Chapman Catt NYWSA Convention Ribbon For the most part, American suffrage organizations refrained from celebrating their leaders by posting images of them on post cards and buttons except for memorial items. One group that was an exception to this convention was the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, and their elaborate Convention badges pictured such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anna Howard Shaw, Emma Willard, and Carrie Chapman Catt. Some of these badges were memorial, others celebratory. There is no evidence, however, that any of these badges were distributed to anyone other than convention delegates, and even with NYWSA the focus of the campaign was on ideology and not personality.
Maine “Dirigo” Convention Badge In general, suffrage organizations produced ribbons not buttons for attendees at their conventions. Occasionally, some groups such as the NYWSA above did distribute buttons attached to ribbons for a more spectacular effect. In the item to the left, manufactured for an unknown convention, the paper that was used in a smaller celluloid pin in Maine was also utilized for this rare badge. “Dirigo” is the State motto of Maine and means “I Direct” or “I Guide.”
Harlem Equal Rights League The Harlem Equal Rights League was organized in January of 1905 by Maud Malone, who served as its recording secretary with Martha Williams as its president. The League was known to be one of the more militant of the suffrage organizations, with Malone herself known for her aggressive activities. In 1905, she urged women to follow Susan B. Anthony’s example and vote illegally in whatever precinct they resided in. She also interrupted speeches by politicians including that of Theodore Roosevelt demanding to know their position on Votes for Women. At the time of the League’s inception, Harlem was largely a “white” community with the substantial African American migration yet to come.
Chain Link Pins The Chain Link design so associated by American collectors with a 1 1/4″ celluloid pin issued by the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association is actually based upon an English design, originally used by Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. The WSPU version comes in three variants with green, purple, and violet alternating as the dominant color on the outside circle of the badge. Other organizations borrowed the design as well, including the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement, a militant group founded in 1910 by Victor Duval as the male counterpart in England to the WSPU, and the Just Government League of Maryland. The CWSA, the MPUWE, and the JGL all borrowed the purple, white, and green of the WSPU to use for their own official colors.
Deeds Not Words When Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, returned from England in 1902, she joined several groups involved in elevating the status of women, forming her own organization the Equality League of Self Supporting Women in 1907, which became the Women’s Political Union in 1910 and later merged with Alice Paul’s Congressional Union to form the National Woman’s Party. The WPU borrowed much from Emmeline Pankhurst’s English group, the Women’s Social and Political Union, including its name and its official colors of purple, green, and white. The WPU pin here consciously recalls Pankhurst’s famous iteration of the phrase, “Deeds Not Words.”
National Woman’s Party Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party (1917) was the outgrowth of several earlier organizations, which she had helped form, the Congressional Union (1914) and the Woman’s Party (1916). Paul had been a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association where she headed up their Congressional Committee, but she parted ways with the parent organization after an acrimonious relationship. The official colors of both the Union and the Woman’s Party were purple, yellow, and white, a modification of the colors of the English militant group, the Women’s Social and Political Union. So known were the colors of the NWP, that the Party often issued sashes, ribbons, and banners entirely purple, yellow, and white without any wording at all, so certain was Paul that they would be recognized. President Woodrow Wilson was reported to be tired of viewing the “purple” of the NWP the first thing in the morning outside the White House. Paul, who was described as a non-violentmilitant, was known for her aggressive methods that included picketing the White House (the”Silent Sentinels”) and massive marches before marches became de rigueur as a tactic. Despite her focus on visual rhetoric, street theatre and colorful display to accompany reasoned discourse, her various organizations produced little in the way of buttons and badges. The silver pin at the top left was given out to those women who participated as “Silent Sentinels” outside the White House gates, holding up banners in support of woman suffrage, some of whom were imprisoned and even force fed. The two enamel pins show that while the name of Paul’s group was undergoing expansion and change, the official colors were a constant. Paul’s groups did issue a few celluloid pins in addition to their enamels.
Suffrage Clicker This suffrage clicker was issued by the Woman Suffrage Party of New York, probably in connection with the campaign in that State in either 1915 or 1917, The WSP issued a variety of celluloid items, most of which were in their official colors of yellow and black and contained their initials. A clicker is essentially the same piece as is a button, except that the pin in back is replaced by a simple metal device as seen above that “clicks” when pressed with much the same sound of that of a ball point pen. Clickers were used in political campaigns also, with some varieties having both a pin back and clicker counterparts. They were not all that popular because, obviously, the most important thing about a button is its visibility, and clickers had to be carried, not worn. The piece shown here is the only suffrage clicker known, and it was not widely distributed.
The Official Colors of the Equal Franchise Society Most of the large and many of the smaller suffrage societies had official colors. In America, the best known were the yellow (and black) of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the purple, green, and white of the Women’s Political Union, and the purple, yellow, and white of Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party. The official color of the Equal Franchise Society was blue, which its members wore as part of a large march up 5th Avenue in New York on May 4, 1912. Of the two similar buttons here, one is in blue, as it should be, the other in green and gold. It is unknown why the two versions, but perhaps someone ordered the buttons not paying attention to colors, and, realizing the mistake when the order arrived, the Society reordered them in the proper color. The small enamel piece shown here is cast in the correct color. The Society was founded on December 21, 1908 to, among other goals, “promote the welfare of women, [and] to secure the National, State, and local franchise for women.” Mrs. Howard Mansfield served as the group’s president. Even though the EFS produced at least three different buttons or badges as well as other ephemera, all of its artifacts are difficult to find today, indicating that they were all issued in very limited quantities.
Cooper Union Badges While there were several suffrage meetings held at Cooper Union, these two badges were probably made for the gathering there on November 4, 1915, two days after the suffrage amendment in New York State had been defeated by
voters. The purpose of the meeting was to plan for the next referendum two years’ hence and to get pledges of $100,000 to achieve that goal. The badges appear to have been made to honor workers as the phrase “awarded to . . ” appears on the back of both the silver and gold pieces.
She Could Not Marry Her Opponent Some states, while not allowing women to participate in state and national elections, did allow them the right to both vote in municipal elections and also run for local offices, generally that of school board. Bertha E.H. Berbert was nominated by the Republican Party of Hastings, New York on October 14, 1899 for School Commissioner, but not before she had to promise not to marry her Democratic opponent. Joseph See, on of the delegates at that convention noted that the first woman in the county ever to run for office fell in love with her Democratic opponent and lost the election. Berbert’s promise was irrelevant anyway, since her opponent was both elderly and already married. She won the election, however, and held office for six years until the Republican machine, with which she had a series of disagreements, refused to endorse her again in 1905. Even though celluloid buttons were inexpensive to produce, Berbert, obviously, took her campaigns seriously, as they ordinarily were not issued for offices lower than Mayor or Alderman.
Some Additional English Badges In general the English were not quite as prolific in their manufacture of pins and badges as they were with suffrage postcards. Still, they did manage to produce an impressive array, some of which are pictured below. Most English badges were designed in the colors of the group that made them, thus purple, white, and green for the Women’s Social and Political Union, green, gold, and white, for the Women’s Freedom League, and red, green, and white for the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies.
For more information about these and other American and English suffrage buttons and badges, consult my forthcoming book from McFarland Press, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study. Further specifics about this book as they become available will appear on the home page of this site.