Alice Paul, leader of the militant National Woman's Party, toasts the Party's banner (with grape juice!) after the passage of the suffrage amendment.


Despite extensive research on the American woman suffrage movement, little attention has been paid to the imagery the movement created. Suffrage imagery should be understood and treated as a legitimate form of political communication. Examining the political imagery and artifacts of the suffrage movement provides insight into the ideologies and strategies of the divergent wings of the movement and brings a clearer understanding of the relationship between that ideology and the political processes of the period. It also highlights the practical role that symbolism played in unifying the movement and in transmitting the suffrage message to a wide public audience. An analysis of suffrage imagery shows the emergence of a distinct female political culture, demonstrating how women transformed the concept of their domestic role into a dynamic political strategy emphasizing social reform.


College women picketing the White House in 1917. The first picket line was formed on January 10, 1917.

Until women's history became a legitimate academic field of study in the early 1970s, and women began to write their own history, suffrage was barely mentioned in history textbooks. Indeed, militant activism by American women in the suffrage movement was almost unknown. Even in our own time - outside the ranks of women historians and feminist activists - leader Alice Paul and the militant National Woman's Party (NWP) which she founded are hardly known. Few know that it was women who first picketed the White House for a political cause, or faced jail, hunger strikes, and forced feeding while they were in prison. For that matter, few know about Carrie Chapman Catt and the mainstream suffrage organization which she led, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and their years of public education, strategizing, and lobbying in the fight for the vote.


Until the Senate finally passed the suffrage amendment in 1919, women pickets and petitioners were a familiar sight on the Capitol steps...


The prevailing public perception of the drive for women's votes envisions a small, doggedly, determined group of women who persisted against the odds until men finally "gave" them the vote. Nothing could be further from the actual facts of a mass movement that encompassed the lives of millions of American women over several generations, employed highly sophisticated political strategy and organization, and developed brilliant, politically savvy, charismatic leaders. [1]







Copyright © 2007 National Women's History Museum.