Around 4,500 women’s suffrage-themed postcards were produced in the US and UK between 1890 and 1915, a time that also just so happened to coincide with the golden age of collectible postcards. At the height of their popularity, postcards with both pro- and anti-women’s suffrage themes were considered a valuable part of collections held in special albums “no ‘drawing room table’ was complete without.”
Some of these postcards were basically just historical feminist cartoons you could send through the mail, but others acted as “proto-memes” akin to political posts common today on social media. The majority of these cards, unfortunately, were on the wrong side of history, depicting, for example, husbands emasculated by suffrage, forced to take care of the domestic sphere while their rowdy suffragette wives were out fighting for the vote.
A few of these suffragette postcards are hard to decipher with modern sensibilities, including some bizarrely contemporary-seeming ones featuring cats (I CAN HAZ THE VOTE?). While they might appear to be light-hearted suffrage propaganda, they were actually intended to send a subtle message about the fitness of the women voting. Tricky! The list below notes when the cartoons are meant to be pro-, anti-, or otherwise, to avoid any confusion. Enjoy!
“I want my Vote!” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
Unbelievably, this and many other cat-themed postcards were intended to be anti-suffrage, accordingto sociologist Corey Wrenn, with cats representing “the domestic sphere” and acting as stand-ins for “silly, infantile, incompetent” suffragettes “ill-suited to political engagement.”
In the 21st century, the most common reaction to this would be to not only to rock the vote, but to snuggle it, kiss it, and scratch it behind its ears, because it’s the most precious vote there is. Yes it is. Yes it is.
“We don’t care if we never have a vote” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“An Advokate for Women’s Rights” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“I’m a Suffer Yet” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
This one might be a reference to the UK’s 1913 Cat-and-Mouse Act, where imprisoned suffragettes on hunger strikes were allowed to return home if they fell ill, but would be re-arrested once they recovered. This poor kitty is a stand-in for a recently released, suffering suffragette, too weak to protest.
“I may be your leader some day” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
The so-called “BS Series” of suffrage postcards – named for the logo of their presumed manufacturer, not for the veracity of their claims – was one of many attempts by commercial interests to cash in on the politics of the time. Incidentally, however, as Dr. Catherine Palczewski notes, these postcard producers may have inadvertently “assisted anti-suffrage forces” by making the suffragettes appear so humorous.
“I believe in equal rights for women” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“What a chance” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“Will we get ’em?” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“A woman’s place is in her home” (Neutral?, ca. 1890-1920)
Commercial postcards such as this one were more interested, it appears, in cutesy depictions of kids such as Little Lord Mansplaineroy here saying the darndest things than actually taking a stance, which likely added to their universal appeal (but may have ultimately hurt the cause).
“I want to speak for myself at the polls” (Pro-Suffrage, 1915)
These proto-Precious Moments dolls were adorably pro-women’s suffrage and were featured in a series of postcards in 1914 and 1915 created by the “National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co.” and produced by Campbell Art Co. in Elizabeth, NJ.
“Let’s pull together!” (Pro-Suffrage, 1915)
“She’s good enough for me!” (Pro-Suffrage, 1915)
“Suffrage First!” (Pro-Suffrage, 1915)
Lincoln Proto-Meme (Pro-Suffrage, 1910)
From a set of postcards released by the the National American Woman Suffrage Association, this proto-meme wouldn’t look too out of place on your Facebook wall.
Lincoln Proto-Meme 2 (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“The Ballot is Denied to Woman” (Pro-Suffrage, 1910)
(It’s safe to say that escutcheon, meaning a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms, was a far more common word in 1910 than it is today.)
“Are you Mr. Henpecko?” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
Cats weren’t the only anthropomorphized animals used as stand-ins during the struggle for women’s suffrage. Poor Mr. Henpecko here had his nightly pipe interrupted so his wife could fight for a woman’s hen’s right to vote in this undated postcard.
“Darn This Suffragette Business Anyhow!” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“Don’t Monkey with ‘Womans rights'” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“It Can’t Be Did!” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“The Spirit of Today” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“Everything but that Vote!” (Pro-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“What Would You Do in a Case Like This?” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
This is one in a series of many anti-suffrage postcards that Dr. Palczewski labels “The Feminization of Men“: “[N]ot only did anti-suffrage images make clear how the vote would masculinize women, but they also presented an argument not present in the verbal discourse: that women’s vote would feminize men.”
“When Women Vote” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“Holding His Own” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“Results of the Suffrage victory” (Anti-Suffrage, ca. 1890-1920)
“Suffragette Madonna” (Anti-Suffrage, 1909)
This is one of twelve anti-suffrage postcards created by the Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company of New York in 1909. This series is notable for incorporating Madonna and Uncle Sam imagery into its depiction of post-suffrage men as helpless domestic martyrs.
“Uncle Sam, Suffragee” (Anti-Suffrage, 1909)
“Election Day” (Anti-Suffrage, 1909)
“Oh You Vote” (Anti-Suffrage, 1909)
“Pantalette Suffragette” (Anti-Suffrage?, 1909)
Ostensibly anti-suffrage, this one doesn’t make much of a case and would likely be considered pro-suffrage to modern eyes unaware of the context. She looks awesome and comfortable.