No one relishes being made fun of, especially when celebrating a birthday. But Susan B. Anthony, who was born February 15, 1820, will perhaps not turn over in her grave if we acknowledge just how prominently she appeared in cartoons during the years she actively campaigned for and wrote about the history of women’s suffrage.
Historian Lisa Tetrault, in The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), argues that Susan B. Anthony, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, actively and strategically shaped the collective memory of the women’s suffrage movement. In doing so, Anthony came to occupy a central role in the story—so much so that Tetrault quotes a 1900 Washington Evening Star headline proclaiming: “Work of Susan B. Anthony: Her Name is Synonymous with the Movement” (p. 180).
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that one can spot Anthony’s strong features showing up regularly in cartoons of the era. What can prove more of a challenge, now that we are more distant from issues of the day, is understanding the message of the cartoons and whether Anthony’s presence in the compositions was intended to support the suffrage campaign, to undercut the argument for women’s suffrage, or simply to mark Anthony’s celebrity while commenting on other foibles and controversies. One pleasure of cartoons (teachers take note!) is how they can inspire research to understand the message and the nature of the humor with which it was conveyed.
Alice Sheppard’s Cartooning for Suffrage (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994) devotes an entire chapter to the classical symbols and metaphors used in suffrage cartoons. Classical allusions were also rife in art and architecture of the period, which perhaps suggests why Anthony appeared as a winged figure in this 1896 Washington Post cartoon take-off on Constantino Brumidi’s fresco in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, “The Apotheosis of Washington.”
Classical references are also apparent in this 1913 Life magazine cover. Women are certainly on the march. Does it also suggest civilization has run amok?
Regarding the Life cover, Sheridan Harvey noted in her essay “Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913,” that men were often the aggressors at suffrage parades, but this depiction has Anthony, wearing a liberty cap, quite militantly wielding an umbrella. The Life issue it introduced, labeled the “Husbandette’s Number,” certainly hinted at a concern about potential subjugation of men.
Anthony’s visual association with parade activity apparently began quite early, as this 1873 Daily Graphic cover suggests.
The tenor of this 1901 double-page spread in the comic weekly, Puck, is pretty clear, with its depiction of an exposition “chamber of female horrors.” See if you can spot Anthony without looking for her label.
Anthony is also one among many in the two Puck cartoons below. Can you discern what they are satirizing, and how Anthony fits into the mix?
It is always eye-opening to explore the humor of the past. And, as we approach the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, can prompt us to reflect on who, among the many women who persisted in the long struggle to gain the right to vote, was featured in the media at the time, how the women were depicted, and how those depictions have shaped our own understanding of the suffrage campaign and campaigners.
- Have a look at more images of all types relating to Susan B. Anthony displaying in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- The Library of Congress digital collections relating to women’s suffrage are plentiful! Explore the Susan B. Anthony Papers and “Teaching Resources” and “Expert Resources” links that connect you with additional information. In thinking about how the movement was represented visually, you might also want to browse through the images included in Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party and in the Prints & Photographs Division’s Votes for Women illustrated list of portraits and events relating to women’s suffrage.
- Pursue the topic of the women’s suffrage movement and of representation of and by women, in general, through books that may be at your local library:
- Books mentioned above: Tetrault, Lisa. The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014) [view catalog record description]; Sheppard, Alice. Cartooning for Suffrage. Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, 1994 [view catalog record description].
- A bibliography of books and other resources is included in the Women of Protest “Related Resources.”
- A recently published book by a Prints & Photographs Division curator (the associated exhibition was the subject of an earlier blog post): Kennedy, Martha H. Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, in association with the Library of Congress, 2018 [view catalog record description].
- Susan B. Anthony lives on in the memory of several states that recognize Susan B. Anthony Day as a state holiday. View the bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009 to honor Susan B. Anthony by celebrating her legacy on the third Monday in February.