Art & Women's Suffrage

Museum of London

Explore the banners, postcards, posters and cartoons of the suffrage movement's artists.

The Artists' Suffrage League
The campaign for women’s suffrage had begun in 1866, but it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that it developed the politics of spectacle and visual propaganda. Suffragists relied on words rather than images, until the formation in 1907 of the Artists’ Suffrage League. Art, in the form of banners, posters, postcards and newspaper cartoons, gave a visual dimension to the Votes for Women campaign.  

The Artist’s Suffrage League made its mission explicit: ‘to further the cause of Women’s Enfranchisement by the work and professional help of artists…by bringing in an attractive manner before the public eye the long continued demand for the vote’.

The ASL worked closely with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Its first major project was the creation of 70 banners carried through the streets of London in June 1908.

One of the League’s founders, Mary Lowndes, a renowned designer of stained glass, was responsible for most of the banner designs for that event.

Members of the Artist's Suffrage League were professional female artists, many of them known to each other through their art-school training or through their experience of exhibiting.

In 1908 the Artist’s Suffrage League published its first pictorial political posters. One of these was Emily Ford’s ‘The Factory Acts: They Have a Cheek. I’ve Never Been Asked’, highlighting the lack of control that working women had over their lives when all laws were written by men.

The Suffrage Atelier
In 1909 a group of younger women formed another artists’ society, the Suffrage Atelier. Their aim was ‘to encourage Artists to forward the Woman’s movement, and particularly the Enfranchisement of Women, by means of pictorial publications.’ 

Unlike the Artist's Suffrage League, the Atelier was not associated with any particular section of the suffrage movement.

They provided artwork to further the campaign of ‘militant’ societies, such as the Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Freedom League, as well as that of the ‘constitutional’ NUWSS.

The Suffrage Atelier did not require members to be professionally trained and was keen to teach them the hand-printing processes necessary to produce its publications.

So, while Artists' Suffrage League posters were produced by commercial lithographic printers, Suffrage Atelier posters were printed by its members.

Although most of these were women, it is known that some men did contribute designs for these posters.

Posters played an important part in the 20th-century suffrage campaign, at a time when by-elections occurred far more frequently than they do now, and 1910 saw two general elections.

Striking posters, displayed in the windows of high-street shops leased by suffrage societies, sought to attract women into the movement, as well as ensuring that the suffrage message was brought to the attention of the man in the street – the all-important elector.

The Suffrage Atelier used wood or lino-cuts, in black and white, or with colour added by hand, giving a strong, urgent stamp to their message.

In style, the posters – with their bold, simple designs, using flat images and silhouettes – recall the work of the Beggarstaffs (William Nicholson and James Pryde) who, in the 1890s, had transformed the art of the poster.

The Atelier was business-like in producing sheets to show prospective customers thumbnail images of the posters and postcards it had for sale.

Although many of the League's posters and postcards carry an artist’s signature, most of the Atelier’s productions bear only their logo, a design featuring Athena, goddess of wisdom and of crafts.

The Atelier was business-like in producing sheets to show prospective customers thumbnail images of the posters and postcards it had for sale.

Although many of the League's posters and postcards carry an artist’s signature, most of the Atelier’s productions bear only their logo, a design featuring Athena, goddess of wisdom and of crafts.

However, it is possible to identify the work of a few of the SA artists, like these designs by Jessica Walters...

...Gladys Letcher...

...and Louise Jacobs.

Like the Artists' Suffrage League, the Suffrage Atelier produced banners to carry in processions, and to decorate committee rooms and meetings.

Postcards
Alongside banners and posters, suffrage artists were quick to identify the potential of another medium to convey their message. During the years before the First World War, the sending and collecting of postcards became a national pastime. Suffragists capitalized on this ‘craze’, publishing cartoon postcards that carried their message through the post and into the home. 

In the years before the First World War, images created by suffrage artists employed both wit and anger in order to raise awareness of the importance of ‘Votes for Women’.

Viewing their work today enables us to appreciate and understand more fully the world of the suffrage campaigners.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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