19th at 100: Commemorating the Suffrage Struggle and Its Legacies in Northeast Ohio

Posters, Cartoons, and Valentines: Visual Suffrage

While publicity events only gained attention for a short while and were restrained by location, printed media could stay up for long periods of time, disseminate through the mail, and be viewed by many more people. 

Printed advertising was integral to the suffrage movement, and something of a novel way to spread political messaging. Buttons and pamphlets were distributed on massive scales, with a hundred thousand posters hung and a million buttons handed out in New York during the fight for the 1915 referendum on suffrage. Suffragists paid for advertising space in streetcars and subways. When not allowed to post slogans, they wore them on sandwich boards. Even relatively new electric signage went to work for the movement, with giant NAWSA signs on Broadway in New York and on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The integration of the suffrage movement with consumerist advertising normalized and popularized the movement. 

In the tradition popularized by Sojourner Truth with her carte de visite souvenirs, suffrage organizations increasingly began to print and send postcards and valentines. These were also an answer to the political cartoons of the time, which portrayed suffragists as old, unmarried, domineering, and bitter. The valentines often featured young children, with a strong female child offering a pro-suffrage phrase like “I want to speak for myself at the polls”. The postcards many times showed photographs of famous suffragists or suffragist protests. Some featured quotes by famous men for female suffrage. Others featured images of upstanding and beautiful women up against a patriotic background or in contrast with unruly male voters.
This Ohio postcard, with a design by Cornelia Cassidy Davis, strongly resembles the state seal of Ohio, bringing to mind feelings of pride and patriotism. It also features an angelic woman in all white, the color of purity, and crowns her head with the sun from the seal, increasing her image of holiness. With their attractive photographs, beautiful female figures, and colorful cartoons in a small sendable package, postcards sent the message of suffrage across the country.

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