SUFFRAGE IMAGES: A FORM OF POLITICAL COMMUNICATION
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.
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.
the Senate finally passed the suffrage amendment in 1919, women pickets
and petitioners were a familiar sight on the Capitol steps...
WOMAN SUFFRAGE: A SOPHISTICATED POLITICAL MOVEMENT
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.