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Monday, March 29, 2010

When Women Get the Vote

Florence Claxton’s 1870s comic book Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights, which we presented the past four Mondays, was by far the exception to the kinds of cartoons on the subject, drawn, edited and published mostly by men, which were the norm. (Even Leslie Publications, run eventually by Frank Leslie’s widow, knew where its readership stood, and thus where its money came from.) So, to close out Women’s History Month, following is a small sampling of the anti-Emancipation cartoons more typically found in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

First up, The Wedding Ring Again - as Punchinello Would Have It Worn, by artist/editor Henry L. Stephens, published July 9, 1870, in his post-Civil War humor periodical, Punchinello.  


Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve started with one of the vilest anti-Woman’s Rights cartoons I’ve encountered. The husband in the background smokes while relaxed in his chair, reading a paper titled “Rights of Man”, and being fanned by a contraption attached to his wife’s right arm. Hanging on the wall is a depiction of Eve bringing about Original Sin and the Fall of Man, by accepting the apple from the serpent. The husband takes no notice of the crying baby - the woman’s providence to address - even as she is chained in bondage, as Punchinello would have it – her chains attached both to a ridiculously thin metal band compressing her waist, and to her wedding ring, which is conveniently pierced through both her lips, to keep her mouth shut.  

At the bottom of the cartoon is stated “(Suggested by an Indignant Sister of Sorosis)” – a women’s organization in New York City. This cartoon is in parody of a letter written by Woman’s Rights supporter, colorfully describing women’s conditions, which Stephens then turned around, and depicted literally.  One can see how with different wording this illustration could have been played as a pro-Emancipation cartoon, but the subtitle as Punchinello would have it makes it clear that the publication, Punchinello, is telling its readers that having women chained to society’s expectations, is how things should remain.

More typical are the pair of cartoons below, depicting suffragettes as a pack of crazies, abandoning their role as family caretaker, as in this 1910 Judge magazine cartoon, by Laura K. Foster (known for numerous anti-suffrage cartoons, though Alice Sheppard, in her book Cartooning for Suffrage, indicates Foster may have later converted, showing on page 147 a pro-Suffrage cartoon by Foster, from 1916)…


 …or, as freaks to be ridiculed and gawked at, shown in this cartoon by H.L. Greening, also published by Judge magazine in 1910, in which the manager of a freak show shouts for his menagerie to come out and enjoy a real freak show.


 A major element targeted by Woman’s Righters was to change what women wore — to attack head on the age old argument of “who wears the pants”, women’s servitude being partially kept in check by the impracticality of women’s dresses in modes of transport, such as on horseback, or later, upon bicycles, thus rendering them more dependent upon men.   

The below series of cartoons by Gray Parker, appearing on the January 24th, 1874 cover of the New York paper Daily Graphic, depicted such a Dress Reform Convention, its humor being to show the women’s outfits as ridiculous and ugly, and the participants themselves even uglier (a charge that opponents would continue to make up through the 1970s, against “Wimmen Libbers”).


Florence Claxton made fun of the above comic theme, on the fourth story page of The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights, wherein the heroine’s facial beauty as well as dress, disappear the moment she gives up on marriage and instead pursues Emancipation via Education (“Broken-hearted, she refuses the most elaborate chignons. Thinks a course of Mr. John Stuart Mill might do her good. It does: but her nose immediately assumes strong-minded proportions. EMANCIPATED!!”).

Another common theme in cartoons on the subject, was to depict the dangers of allowing women to wear pants, or pants-like outfits. Once they wore pants, women could become more assertive or even belligerent, as in the below next series of cartoons.  Such as this cartoon, by T.K. Hanna, Jr., from Life’s Comedy, The American Family, 1897, page 4. 


Or below, this early example, by William Heath, from May 1st, 1830, Volume 1, issue 5, page 3, of The Looking Glass.    


And here, on the cover of the October 3, 1903 issue of Pick-Me-Up.


Belligerent, emancipated, pants-wearing women, carried the threat of replacing men in their traditional roles. Such as an imagined women’s battalion, shown here fighting in the Civil War, by (again) H.L. Stephens, from the cover of the (then) humor periodical Vanity Fair, November 9, 1861.


And even relegating men to the woman’s role. Note below, the men holding babies, and being kept behind the rope by a police woman, while a women’s fire brigade do the work of fire fighting, in this centerspread cartoon published in San Francisco’s Wasp magazine, on May 23, 1896, titled When Women Vote.


Finally, to close out, we present a pro-suffrage cartoon by Harrison Cady, published in 1913 in Life, depicting the utopia which will be reaped, once women are given their right to vote. 


Doug Wheeler

JudgeMag NYLife NYDailyGraphic WaspMag ElectionCartoons AmCivilWar HLStephens


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2 Responses to “When Women Get the Vote”

  1. Super I.T.C.H » Blog Archive » Caricature vs. Women’s Suffrage: Cartoonists Weigh In on the Battle for Women’s Rights Says:

    [...] this week Doug Wheeler posted a fascinating and disturbing collection of Anti-Emancipation cartoons which inspired me to rummage through my collection for more old caricatures on Women’s [...]

  2. Super I.T.C.H » Blog Archive » Jan 3: A Congressional Prayer Says:

    [...] to begin, from the December 31st, 1859 debut issue of the Northern weekly humor magazine, Vanity Fair, comes the below prose piece and illustration, Opened with Prayer, by Vanity Fair’s [...]

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