37 Anti-Suffrage Postcards That Show America’s Absurd Fear Of Giving Women The Right To Vote

Published November 4, 2010
Updated August 14, 2020

At the same time that the women's suffrage movement found renewed energy, the postcard became a powerful political tool that both suffragists and anti-suffragists alike exploited.

Woman Unable To Enter Polls Because Of Her Hat
Man Washing Clothes
Man In An Apron Holding Children
Poster Of A Man Caring For A Baby
37 Anti-Suffrage Postcards That Show America’s Absurd Fear Of Giving Women The Right To Vote
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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

Suffragists At A Pageant

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

Stay Single 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

Stay Single Anti Suffrage Propaganda

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.

Now that you've taken a peek at the unbelievably sexist anti-suffrage propaganda of the 19th century, learn about Jeannette Rankin's glass ceiling-shattering journey to become the first woman in U.S. Congress. Then, learn how the British suffragists defended women's rights with the martial art of jujutsu.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.