There was a variety of toys and games issued by various suffragist organizations in both America and England. Although the ostensible justification for their production was to introduce children to the aims of the movement, many of these toys and games actually were aimed at adults. The English, through their extensive number of suffrage shops, primarily centered in London although distributed elsewhere throughout the country, probably were responsible for larger numbers of such memorabilia than their American counterparts. American suffragists, though, did produce several colorful decks of cards, three or four different whirl-a-gigs or spinners, at least one jig saw puzzle, and a host of dolls, most of which were handmade.
Suffrage Board Game The English board game called “Pank-a-Squith” (combining the names of WSPU head, Emmeline Pankhurst, with that of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith) was first made available in 1908. It involved the attempts of a “suffragette” to move from her home to the House of Commons. To get there, she had to cross 50 squares, each with its own vignette of the obstacles that were placed in the path of activists. The game came with 6 metal “suffragette” game pieces. The board itself is ordinarily a square one, but a period owner cut this example into a round frame for display. There was another English board game, this made of paper, called “Suffragettes In and Out of Prison,” which was essentially the same type of game as the first. Copyrighted by a private manufacturer, Whitworth Hird Ltd. of London, the object was for players to work themselves out of the large maze of Holloway Prison by casting a die and moving counters. On the back of the board was an advertisement for “The Morning Leader,” a newspaper of the period.
Suffragette Puzzle Another early game, this one with a trick to it, was “The Suffragette Puzzle to Get Bill Through Parliament.” Made by F.H. Ayers of Aldersgate Street in London, the game alludes to the failure of suffragists to get the Women’s Suffrage Bill passed that was introduced in 1907 in Parliament but ran out of time for it to become law. The game’s players were instructed to take the “Bill,” which consisted of a metal pin, and push it through an opening in the doorway to the House by means of a tin die cut “Suffragette.” Once through, the “Bill” had to be manipulated into the Speaker’s Table.” Concealed under the door and table, however, were two small magnets that made the task virtually impossible to complete, symbolizing the bureaucratic measures that were used to prevent any type of suffrage bill from ever passing.
Christabel Pankhurst Metamorphic The metamorphic puzzle pictured on the left alludes to the escape of Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter, Christabel, to France in 1912 to avoid arrest. When the tab at the bottom of the piece is pulled, Christabel magically disappears, and the two bobbies who were about to encircle her, crash into one another. Two other activists, Emmeline and Frederick Pethick Lawrence, were not so fortunate as to avoid arrest at the time, and were sentenced to 9 months in prison.
Suffrage Dolls There are numerous references in suffrage periodicals about various suffrage dolls. Most appear to be handmade as fund raisers such as those fashioned by Liska Stillman Churchill of Denver out of donated kid gloves. The doll pictured on the left is one of but a few manufactured varieties, and is obviously intended as caricature. When her body is pressed, the suffragettes arms come together causing the symbols to clash. This doll comes in several different dresses, indicating that even this commercial item has handmade parts. There is a Rose O’Neill Kewpie Soap Doll from the period that came decorated with a red, white, and green sash proclaiming “Votes for Women.” Two other items pictured below come from photos kindly supplied by Chase Livingston. They include a china doll with a removable head and a suffrage valentine with a small doll attached.
Jill in the Box There are several varieties of a “Jill in the Box” where, when a lid is opened, a puppet like figure springs out. That she is a suffragette is indicated by the “Votes for Women” sash that is draped over her shoulder. This particular item was made by the same manufacturer as that of the doll pictured above, and as similar style bisque head was used in both pieces. The concept of the design, obviously, was to portray the suffragette as a scary creature, someone who is other than normative. Not only is her sudden appearance intended to cause fright, but her less than handsome features suggest that she is the “other,” a genderless creature separate from ordinary women and thus to be avoided.
Four “English” Suffragette Dolls The first of these dolls was made in Germany, was were many “English” suffrage postcards and satiric ceramic figures. She is holding up a copy of the official paper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Votes for Women. When the doll is wound up, she waves her newspaper and rings her bell. The WSPU was extremely aggressive in marketing its paper, which at its height, had a circulation of 30,000, the largest of any suffrage paper in England. The second doll, smaller than the first, depicts a suffragette prisoner. The term “suffragette” was used by the English militants to describe themselves. The more moderate groups in England did not use the term. American suffragists in general never referred to themselves as “suffragettes,” regarding the term as insulting. If you look carefully, you can probably see two upright arrows on the bottom of her apron, a symbol of Holloway Prison that all suffragettes were forced to wear. This doll was probably dressed by a prisoner. There were many dolls made for the suffrage campaign in both England and America, but the majority were homemade. This particular example may have been sold at one of the many bazaars that workers held to raise money for the cause. The two dolls two the left are partially or completely hand made.
Sojourner Truth Wind-Up Toy Sojourner Truth (1797-1888) was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree. She escaped in 1826 with one of her children and later changed her name. Although a strong anti-slavery advocate, she became firmly entrenched in the Woman’s Rights movement when she delivered her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron in 1851. She became a popular speaker afterward, and earned part of her income by selling carte de visites and cabinet photo images of herself at her lectures. This particular wind-up toy is one of several featuring a black woman stump speaker, none of which is specifically identified as Sojourner Truth. And while they all could simply be caricatures of any black female abolitionist, they probably do have some connection with her given her notoriety. There is also a grotesque bisque figure of an African woman holding a tablet or paper upon which the phrase “Votes for Women” appears has also been popularly labelled as a “Sojourner Truth” piece. The toy pictured above was sold several years ago by Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas in one of their Political and Historic Americana auctions. “The Woman’s Rights Advocate” was advertised in an 1882 Toy catalog as pictured in the image to the left.
Suffrage Whirl-a-Gig Whirl-a-Gigs or spinners are those toys in which a figure of some sort is pushed up a spiral metal rod. When the figure is released, it spins back down again to the bottom. Several varieties of American spinners are known in which the object pushed up to spin is in the form of a die-cut tin bird or a fish in a bowl. The yellow linen pennant at the top of this piece and the date of 1915 indicates that it was probably distributed by the Woman Suffrage Party of New York as part of the Empire State Campaign. Since tin birds were also part of the iconography of Massachusetts suffragists who also were involved in a referendum that year, the piece could have been manufactured in that State as well. Period newspaper accounts in the New York Times indicate that whirl-a-gigs were passed out at demonstrations and marches to adults, who eagerly grabbed for them, not necessarily to pass them along to children.
Suffragette Card Game—The card game called “Suffragette” was developed by the Kensington branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (always creative in their production of suffrage memorabilia) and first promoted in the November 1907 issue of the WSPU journal, Votes for Women. It could possibly be the first suffrage card game on either side of the Atlantic. It could be played as a “round” game or in sides—the Suffragettes versus the anti-Suffragettes. The object was to see who could obtain the highest number of votes by making up cards into sets, each set worth a different number of points, in order to attain the Franchise Bill. The names of the sets contained such period allusions as “Piecrust Principles,” “Broken Promises,” “The Sensational Press,” etc. Each card contained a question and answer, and several of them also featured photographs of prominent suffragists. The back of the cards contained the same image of the specter of a woman holding the franchise bill that graced the cover of the journal during its first year of publication.
Panko Among all of the English suffrage card games, the most popular was probably “Panko.” Manufactured by Peter Gurney of London, it was sold both by the Women’s Social and Political Union at its shops as well as by independent merchants. It contained 48 cards divided into six different designs illustrated by E.T. Reed of Punch magazine, and was sold just in time for the Christmas season of 1909. A similar game manufactured in 1907, although with slightly more complicated rules, had the title of “Holloway or Votes for Women,” and it featured photographs and questions about prominent suffragists. Another English card game was called “Snap.” The idea was to pair up scenes of contemporary life, one of which was that of a suffragette breaking a shop window.
American Card Games There were a number of card games with suffrage themes produced in America. Perhaps the most famous is a version of “Old Maid,” manufactured by Selchow and Righter, best known today for “Scrabble,” in which the old maid or the odd card out is a suffragist casting a ballot. The Affinity Card Company of Portland, Oregon issued an “old maid” type game in which the “suffragette” card was the only one without a matching counterpart. Her portrait, though, was surprisingly traditional and fashionable, and not at all similar to the grotesque that is sometimes seen in period satiric representations of suffrage workers. However, a card of a bachelor woman hag pictured above brings us back to period ridicule of women who forsake their traditional roles for whatever reason.
Traditional Decks of Cards Decks of cards were issued in America by both the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association and Harriot Stanton Blatch’s Women’s Political Union. Although these decks were very popular among suffrage supporters, particularly those of the WPU, there was a caveat. As many suffragists were adamantly opposed to gambling, they could not be used for this purpose. The WPU’s deck came in two colors, yellow and green, and several variations of design are known, indicating that they were reprinted frequently. The jokers of each deck featured the Clarion design that had become a symbol of the WPU. Because of the suffrage images imprinted on them, jokers in suffrage decks were less likely to be thrown away than their counterparts in traditional, non-movement packs of cards. The faces of each card were standard issue without any suffrage connection. The cards which NAWSA sold and which were also distributed by the Woman’s Party of New York, were more graphic, with an allegorical woman holding up the scales of justice. These decks likewise came in two colors, yellow and purple, although a blue variant is known. The use of purple by NAWSA is a bit unusual in the sense that it generally was a color employed by more militant organizations, such as Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party and a color which NAWSA avoided, fearing to be brushed with the paint of radicalism.
English Deck The only known deck of English suffrage cards was produced by Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. Manufactured by DeLarue and Company, the face cards were those of a typical deck, but the backs carried the slogan “Votes for Women” surrounded by prison arrows, all in the Union’s symbolic colors of purple, green, and white. These cards were sold in WSPU shops throughout the country and through advertisements in the WSPU’s official paper, Votes for Women.
If you would like more information about suffrage toys and games, please see my forthcoming book, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study, to be published by McFarland sometime in 2013. Consult the home page of this site for further details as they become available.