Suffrage Newspapers and Journals
There were numerous journals and papers promoting suffrage between the time of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and the passage of the suffrage amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Some of these journals, such as The Suffragist were official organs of suffrage associations. Others, including Charlotte Perkins Gilmore’s The Fore-Runner and Amelia Bloomer’s The Lily, were independent productions that, at times, could deal with issues other than suffrage. Collectively, however, they brought American women news about the movement that was often unavailable to them in traditional newspapers, at least until the decade or two preceding the passage of the National Amendment. Depending on one’s definition of a “suffrage paper,” it is difficult to say which was the first. Credit is sometimes given to Amelia Bloomer’s The Lily, which began on January 1, 1849 as a temperance journal, not as a voice for suffrage. Others credit Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis’ publication, The Una, which first appeared in February of 1853 as the first because of its focus on feminist issues. Most, but not all, of these publications had a short life span, economics and debt overcoming the zeal of their founders.
The Woman’s Journal (1870-1931) The Woman’s Journal was the most successful of all suffrage newspapers, running for 61 years in various formats and under different names, serving at times as the official or semi-official organ of two major suffrage associations. It was first published on January 8, 1870 in Boston by Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Browne Blackwell, with assistance at various points from Mary Livermore and Julia Ward Howe. Promoted as a conservative response to Susan B. Anthony’s The Revolution, its lengthy existence can be attributed in part to Stone’s business acumen. The paper started with $10,000 in seed money from a wealthy supporter, Mrs. Elizabeth Eddy, and then gained additional funds by selling stock. Stone was a founding member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and the paper gained circulation through that unofficial connection. It also absorbed two earlier publications, Mary Livermore’s The Agitator and a small journal published in New York called the Woman’s Advocate. Throughout its length tenure, the paper was edited, at least in part, by not only Stone herself but Mary Livermore, Julia Ward Howe, and Henry Blackwell. Upon Blackwell’s death in 1909, the paper was taken over by his daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell. After 1900, it served in various capacities as an unofficial voice of several different organizations until 1910,when it absorbed Progress, the official organ of NAWSA. Two years later, its name was changed to Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News. In 1917, after another merger with The Woman Voter, it was renamed The Woman Citizen, but it continued to serve as NAWSA’s official paper until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Publication slowed from weekly to bi-weekly to monthly. In 1927 it was renamed again as The Woman’s Journal, a name that it retained until it ceased publication in June 1931.
The Woman’s Column (1888-1904) Not nearly as known as the Woman’s Journal, the Woman’s Column was, nevertheless, affiliated with it. It began in 1882 as a “printed slip” about news items about women taken from the Journal that was sent free to papers around the country who would agree to publish from it. Six years later, the “slip” was formalized into a weekly four-page paper that was edited by Alice Stone Blackwell and resembled its parent in format. After the two major suffrage organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Suffrage Association, merged in 1890, the paper gained an additional function, that of doing “missionary work,” that is, converting women to the cause. One of Blackwell’s functions both as activist and editor was to bring about unification of both the conservative and radical elements in the movement that had originally caused the two Associations to form in opposition to one another in the first place.
The Lily (1849-1856) The Lily first appeared on January 1, 1849 as the product of an idea promoted by the Ladies Temperance Society of Seneca Falls, New York, where the first Woman’s Rights Convention took place the preceding year. Temperance Societies, while dealing with an issue that affected women, tended to be all male, restricting women’s voices to their own organizations. The motivating force behind the Lily was Amelia Jenks Bloomer, who did most of the work on the early issues and, within a year, was listed as both editor and publisher. Moving with her husband to Iowa in 1854 made it impossible for Bloomer to continue her association with the paper and she sold it to Mary Birdsall, who could only keep it up for two years before it folded. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an early contributor to the paper, and it was probably her influence that caused Bloomer to include more and more articles on women’s rights, transforming the basic nature of the Lily to a feminist perspective. Bloomer had attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The paper is best known today for its promotion of a new fashion, now known as the Bloomers. They were originally adopted from a costume worn in the Middle East and Central Asia by New England temperance activist Elizabeth Smith Miller. They were worn publicly by the actress Fanny Kemble, who introduced them to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who wore them on her visits to Bloomer. She liked them and promoted the fashion enthusiastically in her paper.
The ForeRunner (1909-1916) The ForeRunner was a journal that was written and edited single-handedly by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who started her career as an artist before becoming better known as a writer. Her famous works are the semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the feminist utopian novel, Herland. The ForeRunner was more of a feminist paper than one devoted to suffrage, although, obviously, suffrage issues did come up. Many of the articles reflected her belief that the oppression of woman emanated from a patriarchal culture within the household, a philosophy that underpins her famous short story involving in part the male response to post partum depression. Over 7 years, Gilman produced 86 issues, each 28 pages long. The magazine at its height, however, had but 1,500 subscribers. Because Gilman serialized many of her works in its pages, she felt that she lost out on book sales and income, but the sacrifice was worth it in terms of her ultimate purpose of reforming society along what she felt to be more humanistic values.
The Woman’s Tribune (1883-1909) Clara Bewick Colby started up the Woman’s Tribune in August of 1883 after the members of the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association had voted in May of that year to begin a newspaper. Because of declining membership, the NWSA stopped funding the paper the following year, so Colby became its publisher as well as its editor. When the International Council of Women met in Washington in 1888, Colby published her weekly paper daily during the Convention, making the Tribune the first daily ever produced and edited by a woman.Although never formally affiliated with any national group, it was labeled by Susan B. Anthony as “the organ of the National Woman Suffrage Association.” In 1904, Colby moved the paper to Oregon, in part because she believed that this area was fruitful for the advancement of the cause. It never really caught on in the West, however, eventually folding five years later. Among other purposes, the Tribune functioned as a repository of information as to the events pertaining to the suffrage movement.
The Revolution (1868-1870, 1870-1872) In 1867 during the Kansas suffrage campaign, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed and alliance with the quixotic George Francis Train to publish a newspaper that would allow them to cover suffrage events that were ignored by the Eastern press. Train provided $600 in start-up funds, and the first issued of the paper, The Revolution, appeared on January 8, 1868, edited by Stanton and the abolitionist Parker Pillsbury. Anthony served as its business manager and editor. The paper dealt with not only suffrage but of other issues of interest to women such as divorce laws, the disparity of wages between men and women, and the church’s attitude towards various aspects of women’s rights. As part of the original agreement, Train contributed his views on politics and economics. Train was an ardent supporter of the Irish Rebellion, for which he was jailed by the English in 1868, and his financial support for the paper withered, ceasing altogether in 1869. Without his backing, the paper began to accrue significant debt, in part because Anthony insisted on high quality printing equipment and paying her staffers the wages that she thought they deserved. She also banned the advertising of alcohol and morphine laden patent medicines, a source of considerable income. Finally, steeped in debt, Anthony sold the paper for one dollar to Laura J. Bullard in May of 1870, a moderate on women’s rights, whose parents had become wealthy selling a morphine laded patent medicine called “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.” Anthony assumed the $10,000 debt of The Revolution. Despite changing the paper to a “more literary and socially oriented journal,” Bullard was able to keep it afloat for only another two years until it was absorbed by the New York Christian Enquirer. Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal was able to succeed, perhaps, where The Revolution failed, was because she operated on a more stable financial basis, had the backing of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and appealed to a more moderate, broader based audience than did Anthony’s paper.
Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly (1870-1876) Victoria Woodhull, along with her sister, Tennie C. Claflin, started up their own newspaper on May 14, 1870, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, using funds that they had accrued from their highly successful brokerage business in New York. During its six-year publication run (it folded on June 10, 1876), it became a highly controversial journal, espousing controversial opinions on topics that were considered taboo in the mainstream press, including the legalization of prostitution, free love, spiritualism, sex education, and vegetarianism. It also served as a campaign voice for Woodhull when she decided to run for President in 1872, a move that caused a rift within the suffrage movement, temporarily affecting the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Although primarily a feminist paper that strongly supported suffrage, it also became famous for printing the first version in English of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto on December 30, 1871. But the paper achieved its highest degree of notoriety in 1872 when it published a story about an affair between the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, preacher at Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the wife of his friend, Theodore Tilton. She was arrested and jailed for violating New York’s obscenity laws, and went bankrupt. In October of 1876, Woodhull divorced her second husband, Colonel James Blood, and set off for England the next year to start of new life. There she changed her name from Woodhull to Woodhall and her daughter’s name from Zulu to Zula in an attempt to emphasize her “English ancestry.” She married a banker, John Biddulph Martin, who helped bankroll two new papers, the Humanitarian and Woodhall and Claflin’s Journal. The later paper, published in London in 1881, and labeled Vol. XII, no. 3, appears to have lasted but a single issue, and was little more that a justification of Woodhull’s life to the British and a denial of many of the more controversial positions, including her “advocacy of free love” that had been associated with her in the past. Copies today of Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, although rare, are available, but those of its English counterpart are virtually impossible to come by.
The Ballot Box (1876-1881) The Ballot Box was started up in 1876 by Sarah R. L. Williams, editor of the Woman’s Department for the Toledo Blade, as a monthly journal of the Toledo Woman Suffrage Association. It was dedicated to the advocacy of equal rights irrespective of sex. When Williams retired in 1878, the paper was sold to Matilda Joslyn Gage, who renamed it The National Citizen and Ballot Box (later, The National Citizen), and brought it back to her hometown of Syracuse, New York. It became the voice for the National Woman Suffrage Association, and Gage persuaded Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to serve as its co-editors. The prospectus for the paper articulated Gage’s own positions on social issues: “The National Citizen will advocate the principle that Suffrage is the Citizen’s right and should be protected by National Law, and that while States may regulate the suffrage, they should have no power to abolish it. It will support no political party until one arises which is biased upon the exact and permanent political equality of man and woman.” The paper published articles on the treatment of women prisoners, prostitution (a topic that could have led to criminal prosecution for simply mentioning it in print), and the role of Christianity in the oppression of women. Gage’s involvement with the paper lasted for three years until 1881, when she left it, among other activities, to help edit The History of American Woman Suffrage. Gage was even more radical than Anthony and Stanton, and a major rift occurred in 1890 when NWSA joined with the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Gage felt that NWSA had compromised on too many of its principles to bring about the merger, and left to form her own group, the National Women’s Liberal Association. So angered were Stanton and Anthony by what they felt to be Gage’s betrayal that they banned all references to her in future volumes of The History, making it difficult for scholars today to appreciate Gage’s later role in the suffrage movement.
The Suffragist (1913-1920) When Alice Paul first conceived of The Suffragist, she was still a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, but the relationship was tenuous. Wanting to produce a journal, she asked for and received permission from the leadership to publish only a bulletin for they did not want competition with the Woman’s Journal, but she envisioned journal, not a newsletter. Accordingly, she launched The Suffragist on November 15, 1913 as the official organ for her Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. Rheta Childe Dorr was listed as its first editor, and its focus was to lead the charge for a Federal Amendment, subordination all other issues to this goal. In many ways, the new publication, which she brought with her when the Congressional Union split off from NAWSA in 1914, resembled Christabel Pankhurst’s English publication, The Suffragette, in size, length, and the use of a front-page cartoon, later drawn by Nina Allender, whose drawings were to have considerable impact. Although Paul was not listed as editor, she insisted on editorial control, a fact that led to Dorr’s resignation in 1914, although she continued to support Paul and the aims of the Union. Paul along with her friend, Lucy Burns then served as the paper’s editors. This arrangement continued until 1917 when Edith Houghton Hooker, who previously had served as the founder and editor of the Maryland Suffrage News, took over. When the Congressional Union evolved into the National Woman’s Party in 1916, The Suffragist came along, and continued to be a powerful voice for suffrage throughout the war. The Suffragist ceased publication after the passage of the Federal Amendment in 1920. It was to morph several years later into a similar publication called Equal Rights that was started in conjunction with Paul’s work on an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
Woman’s Herald of Industry and Social Science Cooperator (1881- 1885) This publication, with its rather lengthy and unwieldy name, was started up by Marietta Stow in 1881, who had founded the California Woman’s Social Science Association the previous year. The paper tried to encourage discussions of birth control, eugenics, and the “mischief resulting from a purely masculine form of government in Church and State.” Because Stow believed that women needed their own partisan organization with candidates of their own sex, she tried to elicit Abigail Duniway to run for President. When Duniway refused, Stow turned to Belva Lockwood as the nominee of “The Equal Rights Party,’ and she, herself, ran as its vice-presidential candidate. At the end of the 1884 campaign, Lockwood became her co-editor of the paper, which was now named Equal Rights. Unfortunately, the pair managed to publish only several issues before they both realized that the venture would fail. Money may have been an issue. What else may have been a problem was the distance between the two editors with Stow living on the West Coast and Lockwood in the East.
Lucifer the Light Bearer (1883-1907) Perhaps the most non-main stream suffrage related publication of all was not Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly but a journal published by the anarchist Moses Harman called Lucifer the Light Bearer. Harmon took over a paper called the Valley Falls Liberal in 1883 and transformed it into a publication designed “to help woman to break the chains that for ages have bound her to the rack of man-made law, spiritual, economic, industrial, social and especially sexual, believing that until woman is roused to a sense of her own responsibility on all lines of human endeavor, and especially on lines of her special field, that of reproduction of the race, there will be little if any real advancement toward a higher and truer civilization.” He chose the name “Lucifer” because it was “the ancient name of the Morning Star, now called Venus, [and it seemed] to us unsurpassed as a cognomen for a journal whose mission is to bring light to the dwellers in darkness.” Unfortunately, Harman ran afoul of the law when he published a letter condemning forced marital relations in which the author referred to the act as “rape.” the Comstock Act expressly prohibited discussion of marital rape. Because of this incident and another in which he published a similar article by a New York physician, he was to spend a great deal of the next six years in jail. Harman’s health deteriorated, and the journal ceased publication in 1907 as a provocative argument for woman’s rights becoming instead the more scholarly American Journal of Eugenics.
Maryland Suffrage News (1912-1920) The Maryland Suffrage News was founded in 1912 by Edith Houghton Hooker to serve as the official organ of the Just Government League of Maryland, which she had also founded (1909). The paper was designed to serve a two-fold purpose: (1) to help unite the various suffrage organizations scattered around the state to bring pressure on the legislature to be more sympathetic to the issues of women; (2) to serve as a source of information about suffrage to the women of the state because main stream papers were virtually blind to the existence of the movement. Its pages contained information about the movement, discussions about the needs of working class women through such articles as “the Working Woman and the Ballot,” and news about education. Hooker saw the need for a focus on passing a national amendment. The JGL borrowed the purple, green, and white color scheme of the WSPU, the militant arm of the suffrage movement in England, and she did maintain a friendship with Alice Paul that led her to become editor of the National Woman’s Party journal, The Suffragist, in 1913. But the JGL was an affiliate of the more conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association.
The Women’s Political World The Women’s Political World first appeared on January 6, 1913. It was an official publication of the Harriot Stanton Blatch’s Women’s Political Union, and its stated object was “securing woman suffrage in New York State in 1915.” The periodical was edited by Blatch until 1915 when she resigned the post. The editorship was then taken over by her daughter, Nora Blatch DeForest (later Barney), who was also serving as the General Secretary to the WPU. While adhering to its avowed purpose the World also provided its readers with information about state and national suffrage activities. Unfortunately, it was printed on very cheap pulp paper, and most copies have disintegrated.
Newsletters and Such In addition to the numerous regional and national suffrage publications that appeared prior to 1920, there was an array of local and even national newsletters. These newsletters allowed their readers to focus directly on a demonstration or a referendum campaign that affected them along with providing news about an organization that might be considered too local to be covered by a national publication. Some of these newsletters were sent to members only, some had distribution among the general public. With some exceptions, these newsletters were of limited duration. They often were printed on cheap paper, edited by people who lacked the experience of those working for national publications, and found their “local” news covered to a degree by such national papers as the Woman’s Journal. Perhaps the largest (16 pages) and the most pro,fessionally produced was the Headquarters New Letter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, begun in 1915. Its cover illustration, its graphics throughout, and its in-depth articles gave this newsletter more of a feel of a broad based journal than a limited publication. The Headquarter News Bulletin put out by the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association of Warren, Ohio, also in 1915, was more typical of the genre. Issued twice a month on cheap paper, it was only four pages in length, but it did consist of local news. A publication that hovered between a public journal and a members only newsletter was The Woman Voter, first published in 1910 by Carrie Chapman Catt’s Woman Suffrage Party, reached out beyond party members, including a membership blank on its back pages to increase enrollment.
Votes for Women (1907-12, 1912-14, 1914-18) Votes for Women, which for a period of 5 years served as the official organ of the W.S.P.U., was the most widely circulated and influential of all of the English suffrage papers. It started up as a monthly in October of 1907 under the joint editorship of Emmeline and Frederick Lawrence. In April of 1908, it became a weekly, and its price was reduced one month later from 3d to 1d in an attempt to boost circulation, enabled by the Pethick Lawrences, who subsidized the paper. In October of 1909, in conjunction with an advertising campaign that included a “Suffrage Bus,” its page size was increased, with circulation eventually reaching 30,000 copies a week. Votes for Women was known for its in-depth articles, its lengthy biographies of suffrage leaders, its detailed reporting of the activities of local chapters, its extensive coverage of marches and demonstrations, and its many ads for such WSPU products as pamphlets, badges, postcards, calendars, and Christmas gifts. Most issues also featured a front-page cartoon by Alfred Pease, who signed his name “Another Patriot” and whose illustrations also appeared on postcards issued by the WSPU. On March 12, 1912, the police came to WSPU headquarters to arrest the Lawrences along with Christabel Pankhurst for campaign related activities. Christabel escaped to France, but the Lawrences were sentenced to 9 months in prison. On their release from prison, the Lawrences began to express reservations about violent acts as window smashing, fearing that they were causing the WSPU to lose support with the public. When they met with Christabel in France, she outlined plans to them about a proposed arson campaign. When they objected, she had them expelled from the WSPU. Taking Votes for Women with them, they formed their own suffrage organization, the Votes For Women Alliance, and they continued to publish the paper in much the same format, including covers with the Pease illustrations. In 1914, they handed over control of the paper to the United Suffragists, who continued it on as a monthly until 1918 when, with the passage of the 1918 Qualification of Women Act, they ceased publication.
The Suffragette (1912-1915) When the WSPU lost control over Votes for Women after the split with the Pethick Lawrences, it began publishing a new official organ, The Suffragette, under the editorship of Christabel Pankhurst. An advertising campaign was launched that included the introduction of several colorful art posters that promoted the new paper. Through such efforts, the paper in the best of times did reach a circulation of 17,000. However, the Home Office was determined to suppress the paper. On May 2, 1913, the manager of the Victoria Printing Company, which had printed that week’s issue, was arrested. Another publisher was found and another publisher was arrested. Finally, the paper was printed in Glasgow at the offices of a progressive publication called the Forward. Although the government was never able to fully suppress the paper, its efforts in that direction caused circulation to plummet to 10,000 copies.
Britannia (1915-1918) During the war, many activists temporarily suspended their suffrage activities to help with the war effort. The WSPU took its journal Votes for Women and incorporated it within a new official publication called Britannia, under the editorship of Christabel Pankhurst, with assistance from her mother, Flora Drummond, and Annie Kenney. It attempted to show a patriotic policy, and its motto was “For King, For Country, For Freedom.” Nevertheless, Christabel still showed her old anti-government combative spirit by forever attacking officials for not pursuing the war with sufficient vigor. Because of wartime restraints, the appearance of the publication was uneven, sometimes printed with cover illustrations, at others looking like a hastily put together newsletter.
The Women’s Dreadnought (1914-1924 Under Various Names) The Women’s Dreadnought, which began publication in March of 1914 was the official organ of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, a group started up by Sylvia Pankhurst and originally affiliated with the WSPU. Sylvia felt that a rousing of the East End of London was essential in creating a mass movement of women, largely working class, to bear pressure on Parliament to grant the franchise. In a January 27, 1914 meeting of the ELF, Sylvia Pankhurst reported that she had been to Paris to see her sister, Christabel, and the two had agreed, in the presence of their mother, Emmeline, that the ELF should separate from the WSPU. The ELF changed its name to the Workers’ Suffrage Federation and the paper to the Worker’s Dreadnought. It later became affiliated with the Workers’ Socialist Federation and then as an organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Other English Suffrage Publications There were a number of other English Suffrage publications, most of which are listed in Elizabeth Crawford’s The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. These include: (1) The Common Cause (1909-1920), which, for the most part, became the official paper of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies, after the organization had withdrawn its support from the Women’s Franchise, after that paper had refused to exclude reports of the activities of the Women’s Freedom League, of which the NUWSS had become critical; (2) The Catholic Suffragist 1915-1918) the organ of the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society; (3) The Church League For Women’s Suffrage Monthly Paper (1912-1917); and (4) The Women’s Freedom League Temporary News Sheet (1909), which was used as a temporary official paper until the creation of The Vote (1909-1933), published by the Minerva Publishing Company and with Charlotte Despard as the editor None of these papers, however, were as complete and as graphic as the WSPU’s Votes for Women.
The Irish Citizen was a weekly suffragist newspaper published in Dublin, Ireland from 1912 until 1920. Although the official organ of the Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL) the paper encouraged a free exchange of ideas and interactions between the numerous suffragist movements of the period. The principal editors of the paper in its first year were James Cousins and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, along with the latter’s wife Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, who was a qualified teacher working in a Dublin girls school until 1912. The editors supported a range of politics including universal suffrage, vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, the workers movement and pacifism. During 1912 IWFL activists engaged in a speaking tour of Ireland, which was reported in the Citizen. The newspaper also reported on the outrage that followed the English suffragist Mary Leigh’s attacks on Prime Minister Herbert Asquith when he visited Dublin that summer. James Cousins emigrated in 1913 and the Sheehy-Skeffington’s took on the editorial work together until 1916 when Francis was tragically murdered by firing squad on the orders of a British military officer who was later judged to be guilty but insane. The Citizen was published sporadically thereafter until 1920 when British military forces smashed the newspapers printing press.
The above post was submitted by Brian Ward, a Ph.D. candidate at NUI Galway, Ireland