The following post will compare pro and anti-suffrage propaganda with a clear focus on imagery and will analyse the differences between them. This post will ultimately conclude that pro-suffrage propaganda utilised the more effective tactics when devising their propaganda. Firstly, it is crucial to understand the significance of this blog. It will aim to contribute to the historiography of anti-suffrage propaganda and the comparison between pro-suffrage and anti-suffrage propaganda. Investigation into anti-suffrage groups has only gained interest in the past decade therefore it is a modern and relevant topic for further examination. Julia Bush leads the way with the most comprehensive study of anti-suffrage groups with her work “Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain” in 2007. Susan Goodier’s and Anne Myra Benjamin’s work on the anti-suffrage movement in the United States of America provides an interesting perspective to compare the British movement with. In 1988, Lisa Tickner provided a lot of the imagery of the anti-suffrage movement however the main focus was on suffrage propaganda rather than anti-suffrage. In addition to this, contemporary historian Kenneth Florey has recently investigated suffrage memorabilia in both England and America in great detail covering posters, badges and postcards. It is surprising that there is such a limited amount of work carried out on the anti-suffrage movement, particularly their propaganda, because there is an abundance of primary sources easily accessible from archives. Consequently, not only will this research blog aim to contribute to our current knowledge of the anti-suffrage groups, it will also provide a comparison with pro-suffrage groups through their respective propaganda which has been a largely overlooked topic.
The socio-political context of Britain led to the propagandistic war between pro and anti-suffrage groups. The suffrage movement had been increasing in strength and popularity with groups such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women’s Freedom League and through key individuals such as Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Janie Allan, Millicent Fawcett etc. Consequently, there was a rise in the amount of suffrage propaganda produced. However, this rise in female artists and pro-suffrage propaganda at the turn of the century was controversial; Lisa Tickner corroborates this as she believes that in Britain “the idea of the woman artist… was uncomfortable and contested”. Inevitably, this discomfort sparked the opposition to react and produce an increasing amount of anti-suffrage propaganda to counteract the attempt for female enfranchisement.
A notable shared component of pro and anti-suffrage postcards is the use of undermining the other respective movement particularly through the implementation of zoomorphism. They would equate the other with an unflattering or unintelligent animal. The pro-suffrage movement typically depicted the anti’s as a donkey which is a theme Alice Sheppard also observed. An example can be seen through a postcard titled “The Anti-Suffrage Society as Portrait Painter” created by the Suffrage Atelier. This postcard satirically mocks the intelligence of the anti-suffrage organisations. Firstly, the image portrays an anti-suffrage artist as a donkey; this immediately begins the satirical teasing as donkeys are associated as being foolish. The postcard emphasises this as the donkey has a banner hanging from it reading “Anti-Suffrage Society”, which unfortunately for these anti-suffrage societies if you put the first letters of each word together, spells out A.S.S.
Furthermore, the donkey has painted a picture of Mrs. Britannia who is the patriotic representation of female Britain, yet the picture painted depicts her as an insane woman demanding votes. This is an attack by the Suffrage Atelier on anti-suffrage groups by essentially stating that when anti-suffrage organisations create propaganda they are brainless and like a donkey in their assumptions. Furthermore, “The Opportunist” was a brilliant postcard again designed by the Suffrage Atelier. It utilised the undermining nature of illustrating the anti-suffrage movement as donkeys, except in this instance the donkey is pulling the suffrage movement along in a cart much like a work-horse (or in this instance a work-donkey). This is a significant postcard because it is suggesting that the suffrage movement is far too smart for the anti’s and that they are exploiting the anti-suffrage movement to further their own cause. In essence, even if the anti-suffrage movement discusses or attempts to undermine the suffrage movement they are still creating publicity which aids in helping female enfranchisement. These are prominent examples of when pro-suffrage propaganda attempted to undermine the anti-suffrage movement using zoomorphism.
Unsurprisingly however, anti-suffrage groups also used this tactic. A common animal that they equipped into their postcards was the goose. The postcard titled “Suffragettes: Going to Parliament” was a simplistic but effective case of the anti-suffrage tactic of zoomorphism. It featured four geese who were intended to be suffragettes. Again, it is this tactic of belittling the opponent and making them seem less than human. Geese are typically loud and the artist depicts the suffragettes in the same manner through the geese conversing with each other, suggesting that they create a ruckus whenever they talk. In addition to this, geese usually walk in a straight line following the leader; this is an indication by the artist that suffragettes are unintelligent and simply follow without thinking. The concept of using geese was again employed in “An Easter Prophecy” in which members of the suffrage movement are presented as selfish geese. It essentially argued that if women were preoccupied with trying to achieve enfranchisement they were not going to be able to carry out the jobs women were expected to do such as raising children. These two instances of zoomorphism in anti-suffrage postcards were also effective as a tactic as they provide a level of humour which appeals to audiences, especially those that already oppose female enfranchisement.
The principal difference between the two opposing movements’ was that the anti-suffrage movement predominantly kept with the tactic of undermining but the suffrage movement varied their postcards. This can be seen through one of the key anti-suffrage postcards “No Votes Thank You: The Appeal of Womanhood”. This postcard was created by Harold Bird for the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage. Harold Bird featured a ‘Womanly Woman’ as the main protagonist of the image, she is represented as strong, confident, moral and as the anti’s view of the acceptable norm of society. She is holding a banner above her head which states “No Votes Thank You”. This is significant because it puts her in a position of respect, she is confidently campaigning against suffrage. This postcard also is crucial to examine because it has a second meaning to it. Behind the ‘Womanly Woman’ is a suffragette that Bird has depicted as aggressive and barbaric. In comparison to the respectable woman, the suffragette is leaping in anger whilst holding a hammer and a flag simply titled as “Votes”. She is evidently the antithesis of the protagonist. This postcard would have been successful because it played on the fears some British citizens had. While the concept of female suffrage was not new around this time, the implementation of it was rare; the only European country to do so was Finland in 1906. Inevitably, people were uncertain about the effect it would have on society as it was untested. This is corroborated by Malcolm Chandler who stated that a belief some men shared about women was that they were unsure whether women “could be trusted with the vote”. Harold Bird deliberately created this postcard for the purpose of making people doubt female suffrage. Rather than increasing the number of supporters for anti-suffrage, this postcard attempted to reduce the number of supporters for suffrage.
In response, Louise Jacobs altered this postcard to promote female enfranchisement in Britain for the Suffrage Atelier. It featured the suffrage supporter as the central figure and as the epitome of morality. She is campaigning for enfranchisement to improve problems such as the “Slave Traffic” and “Sweated Labour”. The Atelier could easily have reacted by undermining the anti’s, but they decided to employ a more effective tactic of being the “bigger person” and promoting what suffrage supporters are like in reality. This demonstrates that the suffrage movement had an arsenal of propagandistic weapons, they were not just restricted to undermining.
Pro-suffrage posters for the most part were similar to their postcards as they both undermined the anti’s whilst trying to promote their own cause. “Coming In With The Tide” was by Emily J. Harding Andrews and published by the Artists’ Suffrage League epitomised this similarity. It depicted the Women’s Suffrage Movement as a powerful storm and as a boat rushing towards an elderly anti-suffrage woman trying to sweep away the storm. Not only is this poster representing the suffrage movement as unstoppable it also depicts its opponents as frail and unable to counter them in any manner.
However, there was an alternative trend of bringing to light the unfair nature of society and promoting justice in pro-suffrage posters. “Political Help” by Dora Meeson Coates was the winner of the NUWSS poster competition in 1907. This cleverly designed poster features a woman (who represents Votes for Women) dishing out food (political help) to six young boys (who represent different groups such as Trade Unions and the Independent Labour Party). However, the woman is stating that these groups have had enough political help and that the Votes for Women movement now needs its fair share of aid.
This renowned poster depicts the suffrage movement as patient and that they seek nothing but equality. This poster made no reference to the anti’s; it focused on promoting female enfranchisement by proving to the audience that society is unfair, they have waited long enough and it is their time for change now.
This was also evident in “They Have a Cheek I’ve Never Been Asked to” by Emily Ford and published by the Artists’ Suffrage League. This highlighted the problems women faced in labouring work in factories and that they were being exploited as “Sweated Labour”. Kenneth Florey agrees that there was a common trend of promoting justice; he stated that many posters were created “to respond to a specific political issue”. This gave the posters relevancy to the times, they were discussing pertinent issues. This is a trend found more commonly in pro-suffrage posters than postcards. While this is not always the case, it is arguably due to the fact postcards usually focus on light-hearted humour such as satire.
However, the anti’s continued their trend of undermining the suffrage movement in their posters. The most famous anti-suffrage poster was “A Suffragette’s Home”, designed by John Hassall and published for the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage in 1912. It featured a man coming home from work to see a chaotic and untidy house with his wife out campaigning for suffrage. This poster played on the emotions of both sexes. It suggested that women who were suffragettes were neglectful of their
husband, family and household and that they should feel bad about it. However, it also played on the emotions of men, implying that if his wife was a suffragette she would choose women’s enfranchisement over him, essentially emasculating him. This is a perfect specimen highlighting the typical approach anti-suffrage posters took. It undermined the suffrage movement (in this case the suffragettes) by using guilt and the tactic of emasculation.
Badges were a less exploited piece of propaganda yet they are still critical to examine as they provide a different perspective. Postcards and posters demonstrate the artist’s/organisation’s ideas but badges demonstrate the viewpoints of the person wearing it. People wear badges of something they personally associate with or believe in, therefore it provides an insight into their beliefs rather than just the person that designed it.
Contemporary suffrage propaganda historian Kenneth Florey uploaded a collection of suffrage badges onto his website, one key badge was designed by Harriot Stanston Blatch for the Women’s Political Union. This badge conjoined the Women’s Political Union with the WSPU by implementing their purple, green and white colours. It also “adapts the ‘Bugler Girl’ design” created by the NUWSS. Their shrewd combination of suffrage groups is an effective scheme because this badge would have likely resulted in increased membership, as a number of supporters for the WSPU and NUWSS would have begun to support the Women’s Political Union too. Their thought-pattern was essentially that the suffrage movement would become stronger if they co-operated for female enfranchisement. This took a slightly different method to their posters/postcards as it still promoted suffrage yet it attempted to unite all of the suffrage groups which was not a common tactic.
Fascinatingly, anti-suffrage badges took an entirely different approach than their postcard/poster counterparts, rather than mocking the suffrage movement, they promoted what the anti’s supported. The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League supplied its members with a badge in 1908. A visible theme is traditionalism. It features a mother in her home, taking care of her son and daughter. The British Library states that it depicts “the ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ woman as filling the role of wife and mother”. This is crucial to the investigation of anti-suffrage groups as we can understand that the members had old-fashioned values and they evidently believed it would be disrupted by female enfranchisement. They also handed out another badge between the years 1908-1910. This badge contains the national flowers of Scotland (Thistle), Wales (Daffodil) and Ireland (Clover). Interestingly, this is a similar tactic that the Women’s Political Union took when designing their badge. However, rather than trying to unite anti-suffrage organisations, they attempted to unite the countries of Britain to oppose suffrage. In a sense it is trying to suggest that opposing female enfranchisement is a patriotic and necessary cause. These badges are imperative to this investigation because they reveal that the anti’s did not only use the tactic of satire and undermining in their propaganda; they promoted what they believed in with their badges whilst also trying to build their support through a connection between all nations in Britain. They were growing their own support rather than diminishing their opponents’. This signifies a leap in difference between anti-suffrage posters/postcards and anti-suffrage badges.
As a whole, pro-suffrage propaganda was different to anti-suffrage propaganda due to their separate aims. Pro-suffrage groups were attempting to achieve enfranchisement for women which was something that a lot of people in society opposed. Whereas the anti-suffrage organisations were attempting to put a stop to suffrage, rather than attaining something. Consequently, they required alternative tactics in their propaganda which resulted in the anti’s predominantly focusing on undermining suffrage groups and in particular the suffragettes. Lisa Tickner corroborates this argument as she stated that pro-suffrage groups “had to persuade the working as well as the middle classes, men as well as women… that women’s suffrage was a good and desirable thing by which the family and the whole social fabric might be strengthened, not destroyed”. The pro-suffrage groups had to persuade and achieve an audience while the anti-suffrage groups attempted to reduce the pro-suffrage audience and the best way to do this was through undermining the suffrage movement. Undeniably, the pro-suffrage groups had the more difficult aim but they adapted their propaganda to efficiently support this goal while the anti’s were less imaginative in their efforts.
Pro-suffrage propaganda was more effective because of their professionalism and diversity. The suffrage movement had the Artists’ Suffrage League which was created in 1907 and they supplied a lot of propaganda to the National Union; this was followed by the Suffrage Atelier in 1909 who had a relationship with the Women’s Freedom League. Furthermore, the WSPU had individual, independent artists creating propaganda for them. Subsequently, the suffrage movement had a lot of variety in their propaganda and it was organised effectively. Yet there was less diversity for the anti’s as most propaganda was produced by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage and most of the artists are unknown. Julia Bush adds that the reason why the anti’s were less successful was because they were “reluctant to court publicity for their political beliefs” and because of this “Anti-suffrage branches were unlikely to match their suffragist equivalents in terms of continuous campaigning”. They were apprehensive at generating publicity and were consequently apprehensive when devising propaganda which resulted in the less diverse postcards and posters. This is significant because the wider variety of pro-suffrage propaganda would have meant that not only did more people see it, but it would have impacted people in alternative ways. Undoubtedly this would have had greater effectiveness as they would have achieved more support than the anti’s.
There was little variation as a whole within the anti-suffrage movement’s propaganda, but there was a lot of diversity within pro-suffrage propaganda. The anti-suffrage artists only adapted their tactic when designing badges. In postcards and posters, they mocked the suffrage movement but they promoted what anti-suffrage supporters wanted in their badges… traditionalism. However, pro-suffrage propaganda had a lot of variety. They looked different and they had different tactics. The main reason for this was because their propaganda was produced by different groups, the two main bodies being the Artists’ Suffrage League and the Suffrage Atelier. The predominant difference between the two groups was that of professionalism. The League “did not charge for their work”, they were less structured and in some cases they coloured in the propaganda by hand to save printing costs. They were undeniably focused on the suffrage cause but they may not have been as effective as they could have been. The artists did not have the capital or materials to create their work to the best of their ability. Yet the Suffrage Atelier had a polar opposite situation. They were paid, hosted exhibitions and even had their own printing machines therefore their work came out looking a lot sleeker and professional. This is not suggesting that the League’s work was inadequate and unusable by any means, but visually it looked less aesthetic. In addition to this, due to their greater budget, the Atelier produced more designs, “In 1912, they published their first broadsheet, which reproduced twenty-nine available designs in miniature (almost three times as many as the Artists’ Suffrage League produced in the same period)”. Again, this is significant because they would have reached a larger audience with the greater amount of propaganda that they produced. While they were not more talented, the greater budget gave the Atelier greater freedom to produce a larger amount of propaganda and allowed it to appear more professional.
In conclusion, this research blog has contributed to the historiography of pro and anti-suffrage propaganda because it has provided an in-depth visual investigation into postcards, posters and badges which has been an overlooked subject. Overall, pro-suffrage had a lot of diversity in their propaganda, they would undermine their opponents, promote suffrage and they would often illustrate the theme of justice. However, anti-suffrage propaganda predominantly stuck to mocking suffragists by making them appear unintelligent in their postcards and posters. On the other hand, there is an exception with anti-suffrage badges when they promoted their own traditionalist beliefs while attempting to increase their support in all of Britain. For the most part, pro-suffrage propaganda was more effective than anti-suffrage propaganda as the increased variety would have attracted support from more people and their method of promotion made themselves seem more confident and trustworthy. Additionally, in hindsight, this is supported by the fact women over thirty achieved the vote in 1918 and universal suffrage was granted in 1928 therefore it must have had a level of effectiveness.
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 Susan Goodier, No Votes For Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012)
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 Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-14, P.151
 Ibid. P.26
 Julia Bush, Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain, P.3
 Ibid. P.225
 Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928, (London: UCL Press, 1999) P.16
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