Teaching Rhetorical Analysis with Suffrage-themed Advertisements

This post is by Amanda Campbell, an undergraduate student at University of Memphis and a 2019 Library of Congress Junior Fellow.

In February 1911, the New York State Woman Suffrage Association hosted the Susan B. Anthony Fair and Reception, a gathering of eight American suffrage organizations. The Fair and Reception coincided with the birthday of early suffrage activists Susan B. Anthony and the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw and was a fundraiser for suffrage activities. The participating organizations raised money by serving tea and selling crafted goods. The suffragists also raised money by selling advertisements in the program.

Among these advertisements is a marketing campaign from the Monarch vacuum cleaner in which all were invited to “vote” for their favorite suffrage leader by sending a check to the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in her name. The ad promises that whoever acquires the most votes would win a Monarch Vacuum Cleaner. Another warns that “The demand for suffrage and for ice cream may be resisted but it cannot be subdued.”

Page 19 of Susan B. Anthony Fair and Reception. New York State Woman Suffrage Association, New York City, New York, 1911

Page 26 of Susan B. Anthony Fair and Reception

Encourage your students to examine these and other advertisements from the program in the online collections of the Library of Congress. Students can digitally flip through the program on the Library’s website to find their favorite products or slogans. After your students have identified a handful of class favorites from the book, brainstorm what makes these advertisements catchy, memorable, or effective. Use this list as a way to identify and explain some common rhetorical strategies, and some common logical fallacies used in the ads.

After you have discussed rhetorical strategies and how to assess an author’s claims, examine these advertisements again. Guide the discussion by asking:

  • What is the advertiser’s point of view?
  • What is the advertiser’s argument? What are his or her claims?
  • Is the reasoning of the advertisement sound? Does it use any logical fallacies?

Break your students into groups and have each group draft its own advertisement or fundraising plan for women’s suffrage. The students’ creations could be based on a style or idea from the book. Reflect as a class on what makes these advertisements effective or ineffective.

For more resources on rhetorical strategies in newspaper advertising, check out the Library’s text-searchable digitized newspaper database, Chronicling America. Browse by topic, era, or location for interesting historical advertisements.

For more about how the women’s suffrage movement was funded, see the following sources on private donations:

Please share any thoughts on suffrage advertisements in the comments!

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