31 Women's Suffrage Postcards That Show How Far We've Come
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, according to 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)