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2. Spring 2016

Attitudes and Arguments of the Public Regarding the Women's Suffrage Movement

An Analysis of 1910s Pro- and Anti-Suffrage Postcards

Ally Adams

In the book Feminism is For Everybody, bell hooks argues that feminism is not only a movement to uplift and equalize all women in society, but that it is also a movement to end toxic masculinity, oppression of minorities, classism, white privilege, female reproductive right redacting, patriarchal violence, and imperialism (bell hooks). Through the Suffrage Postcard Project, I have been able to examine these facets in the context of the general public’s divided view of the first wave feminist movement of the 1910s using digital humanities technology.

Methodology

In order to examine the conflicting attitudes of the American public during the 1920s regarding the suffrage movement, myself and the other research assistants compiled postcards from several sources, and using a specific algorithm for tagging, tagged the images based on the facets of feminism and feminist theory we’ve been researching throughout this study. Tags include major themes regarding the suffrage movement, womanhood, communities, fatherhood, minorities, and physical and verbal depictions within postcards. In my personal analysis of these postcards, I measured the frequencies of the tags and imported them into the data visualization program Gephi to understand the main focal points of the arguments the creators of the postcards tried to make, and on what basis their arguments were formed.

Conclusions

The mostly American makers of these postcards were divided into two groups of thought: pro-suffrage and anti-suffrage. Because this time period was home to the first feminist movement in American history, the anti-suffrage postcards relentlessly played upon pre-progressive ideas about feminism and womanhood, relying on the traditional ideals that remarked that women are inferior to men, that women should stay in the house and take care of the children, that a woman’s opinion does not matter, and that women are not smart enough to become members of the economy. Attacks on women and women’s suffrage manifested themselves within our postcards all throughout the “antisuffrage” overarching theme tag. In addition, the persistence of the anti-suffragists is evident in their use of color; an Imageplot of the dark versus light hues across a range of the postcards illuminated that the majority of dark colored postcards were from anti-suffrage postcard creators, and darker colors related more negative feelings toward suffrage. Moreover, color printing is and was more expensive than black and white printing, and therefore the eagerness of the anti-suffragists to pay for propaganda relates their strong feelings toward tradition conservation.

Contrarily, the pro-suffrage postcards aimed to tackle these above notions primarily in order to fight for their right to vote; this particular medium of postcards was not ideal because the misconceptions of the traditionalist thoughts about women had not been frequently publicly addressed up until this point in history. However, the persistence of this form of communication and its popularity among the public allowed it to circulate information about suffrage, much like social media sites Twitter and Facebook allow the user to send short messages to friends and the world (Collectors Weekly). Though the pro-suffragists could not afford as many dark color images as the anti-suffragists, their arguments toward suffrage were sometimes violent and extremist for the time period. Anti-men ideologies and violent testimonies to a lifetime of suffering related the courage and seriousness of the pro-suffrage postcard creators. While focusing on feminism, the pro-suffragists also focused on other topics of equality, such as minority rights, men and women’s spheres, and men’s privilege.

 

Ally Adams was an undergraduate research assistant on The Suffrage Postcard Project, undertaking an Independent Study with the Georgia Institute of Technology during 2016.

 

References

hooks, bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000. Print.