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This postcard wonders how a woman could even enter the polling booth what with all her clothing.Public Domain
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The majority of postcards that carried anti-suffrage messaging featured illustrations that had nothing to do with women's voting at all but rather signaled the true intent of the propaganda, which was to convince the public that women should stay in the home.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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It was common for anti-suffrage materials to depict overwhelmed men at home as an argument against women's liberation.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Many anti-suffrage postcards depicted men performing what were considered to be women’s jobs like cooking, cleaning, and caring for their children, while their wives were out protesting.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Many of these messages pushed the negative stereotype that suffragists didn't know how to do chores that were then considered the work of women, which insinuated that they were less than "real" women.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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While postcards were the choice propaganda tool, a lot of anti-suffrage art also showed up in the papers and magazines. Library of Congress
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An estimated 4,500 postcard designs and slogans were printed regarding the women's suffrage movement — some supporting it and some against it.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Anti-suffragists warned against the destruction of the American nuclear family should women garner the right to a voice in the polls.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Postcards were a cheap and emotive way to influence public opinion in the late 19th century.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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An anti-suffrage postcard from 1906 falsely argues that women were not sophisticated enough to handle civic decisions. Suffragette Postcard Project
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This 19th-century postcard insinuates that men would become more feminine and their families would suffer if their wives were given the freedom to vote.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Anti-suffrage illustration titled "Election Day," by E.W. Gustin circa 1909. Library of Congress
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"Often suffragettes in English cards are not simply plain, they are grotesque, the implication being that their ugliness and their ideology are interrelated," wrote author Kenneth Florey.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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According to this postcard, nothing but chaos could come of women receiving the right to vote.Public Domain
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Anti-suffragists claimed that women would shirk their parental responsibilities at home if given the opportunity to vote.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Female anti-suffragists tended to be wealthy and did not want to see a system they were already benefiting from change.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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A patriarchal definition of "womanhood" was also often at the center of this propoganda, such as in this 1912 postcard illustrated by Harold Bird for Britain's National League for Opposition to Women's Suffrage. Here, an anti-suffragist is depicted as classically feminine compared to the scraggly suffragist behind her. NLOWS/Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection
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William Ely Hill’s 1915 illustration shows a man standing at a table with three women and another man during a New Year's party, concerned that his wife will find him out with a female companion.Library of Congress
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"These cards often showed a topsy-turvy world, and the resultant chaos once women achieved power and husbands were forced to do the housekeeping and child raising," Florey wrote in his American Woman Suffrage Postcards: a Study and Catalog.
Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Many companies that produced postcards at the time released both pro- and anti-suffrage illustrations. This particular Bamforth card could be read as either pro- or anti-suffragist. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Anti-suffrage postcards in the 138 series published by Ullman Mfg. Co. portrayed husbands as they reluctantly performed domestic chores instead of their wives.
Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Anti-suffrage illustrations featuring crying babies were meant to spread the false notion that mothers would abandon their children if given the freedom to vote.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Suffragists were often accused of using their sexual appeal to gain votes.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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“Women have always been infantilized... To reduce a woman to a child is a way to undercut her argument, to belittle it. It may be trying to minimize the power of a woman’s argument or to reduce a suffragist to just a whiny little girl," said historian Catherine H. Palczewski.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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According to this postcard, if women get the right to vote then they will take over the bars like men.Public Domain
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The majority of suffrage-related postcards in the U.S. were produced by commercial companies like the firm with the logo "BS" stamped on it.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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This anti-suffrage postcard shows a woman voter championing only women candidates, an insinuation that women's voting rights would topple men from the top of the social hierarchy.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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The term "suffragette" was not actually used by women's rights activists but was started by anti-suffragists to mock their cause.Oregon Historical Society
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Both single and married suffragists were targeted in anti-suffrage propaganda art. Married suffragists were typically depicted as nagging wives who abused their husbands or engaging in activities commonly associated with masculinity like gambling and drinking. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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"We operate with this zero-sum mentality, which is, if women gain rights, men lose them," Palczewski, who is also a vintage postcard archivist, added.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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This postcard was among the 12 cards released by the Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company of New York.
"The postcards... present an argument that was absent in the verbal discourse surrounding suffrage: that men [and the nation] would become feminized by woman suffrage," explained Palczewski.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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This illustration claims that suffragists are just unhappy older women and not citizens concerned with partaking in their democratic duty.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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"If you read the spoken discourse for and against suffrage, there are all sorts of arguments that women getting the vote will masculinize them and make them lose their feminine identity," Palczewski, who is also a professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Northern Iowa, added. "But there's not much about what women's vote will do to men."
Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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The madonna was among the many pop culture icons that were co-opted by the suffrage opposition to reinforce the disruption of antiquated gender roles that the women's right to vote would allegedly bring. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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Suffragists who were unmarried were typically painted as unattractive. Opposition that attacked woman activists' physical appearance was also common during the 1960s women's liberation movement and is a common trope even today.Jane Purvis
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Applying antiquated gender roles between children was also a common theme used to convey anti-suffrage sentiment.Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
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A lot of the illustrations played on male fragility and depicted men carrying out what was believed to be women's work while they were ridiculed by other men. Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern Iowa
37 Anti-Suffrage Postcards That Show America’s Absurd Fear Of Giving Women The Right To Vote
It would take over a century for women's rights activists to convince the people of America that they deserved a voice in the polls. Suffragists risked their reputations to lobby for their right to vote, but their efforts were hampered by the unrelenting campaigns of opposing powers, including other women. These anti-suffragists fought women's voting rights on several grounds, not the least of which were misogynistic in nature.
Indeed, it is astonishing for the modern person to look back on the sexist propoganda of anti-suffragists, but it serves an important purpose: it highlights just how difficult the struggle for women's suffrage was and illustrates the social progress that has been made so far.
Take a look at some of the most ridiculous anti-suffrage postcards from the late 1800s to late 1910s in the gallery above.
The Women's Suffrage Movement
Wikimedia CommonsThe 19th Amendment reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed on Aug. 18, 1920, and it ended a century-long struggle for a woman's right to vote in the United States.
The women's suffrage movement was alive in both 19th-century America and Britain. The movement was begun by middle-class white women in Britain in the mid-1800s, but the issue of women's voting rights remained largely ignored by the general public and Parliament.
It wasn't until British suffragists began to employ more militant tactics that their cause really started to gain notice. This brazen approach was headed by Emmeline Pankhurst who, in 1903, founded the radical women's group the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).
For the next decade, WSPU members became headline regulars by basically declaring war on the British government. The organization launched campaigns that were largely anarchist in nature, chained themselves to public fences, smashed windows, and even set off bombs.
In the U.S., the women's suffrage movement really came to fruition following an 1848 convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The meeting of 100 people, two-thirds of them women, was the first of its kind in the country. But with a pervasive patriarchy and the rise of the abolitionist movement at the onset of the Civil War, the suffrage movement in the U.S. briefly stalled.
The movement was renewed in the States decades after the end of the Civil War, when suffragist Alice Paul organized a national pro-suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. It was an unprecedented gathering of women exercising their First Amendment right to peaceable assembly.
But the peaceful parade turned violent after a mob of police officers and anti-suffrage protesters interrupted it. Many of the suffragists were spat on, yelled at, and even physically assaulted. Paul, tired of the harassment, formed the National Woman's Party, which was essentially the American equivalent to Britain's militant WSPU.
Suffragists used whatever means they could to promote awareness and gain support for women's voting rights, including handing out campaign materials like buttons, signs, and — of course — postcards. But their efforts were often thwarted by the opposition, which had its own arsenal of anti-suffrage postcards.
The Use Of Anti-Suffrage Propaganda
Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive/University of Northern IowaAnti-suffrage propaganda campaigned to keep women in the home rather than in the polls.
Long before the advent of social media, one of the most popular modes of influencing the public opinion was through illustrated postcards.
In the early 20th century, postcards were considered precious pieces of art and were commonly used as home decor. Postcards reached the height of their popularity between 1893 and 1918, likely because they were cheap and emotive. With attention bubbling around the women's suffrage movement, postcards quickly became a popular propaganda tool — especially for its opponents.
It's estimated that 4,500 different postcard designs and slogans on the suffrage movement were produced, some showing support for the movement and some ridiculing it. When it came to anti-suffrage propaganda, much of the materials played on the theme of antiquated gender roles and that men were expected to be the breadwinners while women should take care of the house and children.
Interestingly, most of the anti-suffrage illustrations went beyond women's voting rights.
"If you read the spoken discourse for and against suffrage, there are all sorts of arguments that women getting the vote will masculinize them and make them lose their feminine identity," said Catherine H. Palczewski, a professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Northern Iowa and a vintage postcard archivist. "But there's not much about what women's vote will do to men. But all over the postcards, there are these images of men being feminized."
These postcards trumpeted false and highly exaggerated implications that liberated women would beget on society and, chiefly, that husbands would be left to care for the house and children alone while wives would go about on their own in public.
Even though caring for one's abode and own offspring should be the responsibility of every individual parent, men running the house while women — heaven forbid — were out taking part in the economy and political society was deemed an outrageous setup.
As a result, illustrations featuring "manly" women smoking cigars and wearing top hats, as well as men in aprons holding screeching babies were aplenty. An assortment of the most misogynistic anti-suffrage postcards to the point of comical are featured in the gallery above.
"We operate with this zero-sum mentality, which is, if women gain rights, men lose them," Palczewski, added. "You see the same sort of idea that if people of color or ethnic minorities make gains, whites therefore lose something. So if men only understand their identity in relationship to being bigger than women, then it's a trade-off. You see it in dozens of anti-suffrage postcards, showing men being hurt if women advance."
The Propoganda Proved Powerless
Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.Anti-suffrage propaganda was more about keeping women domesticated rather than equal voting rights.
Fortunately, anti-suffragist postcards did little to stop the tide of the growing women's movement.
The women's suffrage movement made big gains in 1916, when Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress in Montana. Through her position, Rankin helped lobby for a constitutional amendment put forth by suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony, which asserted that states could not discriminate against sex when it came to voting rights for women.
That same year, 15 states granted women the right to vote on the municipal level. With support from President Woodrow Wilson, Congress voted on the federal amendment five times between January 1918 and June 1919.
The 19th amendment was finally ratified on Aug. 26, 1920, after Tennessee became the 36th state to pass the law.