Running for Office 

Library of Virginia

A look at 20th century campaign ephemera at the Library of Virginia

Get Out The Vote
American political ephemera is older than America itself. Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" set the tone for using plain language for persuasion to a political side. Flyers, pamphlets, posters, buttons, television ads, and more use the same plain persuasive language today. This exhibit will highlight some of the various styles of political ephemera from the 20th century found at the Library of Virginia.

In order to vote, citizens in some states were required to pay a poll tax.The tax emerged in some states in the late 19th century as part of the Jim Crow laws.

The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia was formed in 1909 by a small group of Richmond activists. When Congress passed the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in June 1919, there were 30,000 members.

The Virginia League of Women Voters succeeded the Equal Suffrage League in 1920. They followed in the suffragist tradition of fighting for changes in child labor laws and food and drug regulations.

Early campaign flyers, like this one for G. Walter Mapp, were small and straightforward. The back side outlines his credentials; a tactic still in use today.

During the Great Depression, many Republicans sided with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies. This piece outlines one man's reason why and the video highlights the tension between parties.

By the mid-20th century, campaign pamphlets started to use more graphics and colors.

Not all campaign materials are professionally stylized; like these homemade flyers.

Red, White, & Blue
Using the colors of the American flag is a common way to tout a candidate's patriotism. Visual elements from the flag, such as stars and stripes, will also be repeated.

Women began serving in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1923, soon after gaining the right to vote.

What Are the Issues?
Politicians use their campaign materials to outline their views on the issues that matter to voters in an effort to earn votes.

Special interest groups use pamphlets, like this one from the Virginia Federation of Labor, to encourage voters to vote according to their specific political affiliation.

Party Unity
Straight party tickets, sample ballots, and endorsements by established politicians are a tried and true campaign advertising strategy. 

Endorsements from established politicians are a long tradition. An endorsement from a governor or a president lends an air of credibility to a candidate.

In an effort to influence voters, some campaign pamphlets and flyers take the form of a sample ballot showing the candidate's name highlighted or checked.

Some politicians try to sell their campaign as part of a straight ticket (i.e. voting for every candidate that a political party has on a general election ballot).

Rock the Vote
Campaign paraphernalia became a major fixture of elections during the mid-1820s. Modern day campaign buttons, made of celluloid, came into style in 1894. Buttons, ribbons, tabs, and other wearable items are outward ways the populace can show off their support for their favorite candidate or cause. 

Campaign buttons gained popularity in the 1890s with the invention of celluloid. Celluloid provided a clear protective layer for designs underneath. The process has remained relatively unchanged since.

Campaign buttons are popular on the local, state, and national level.

Tabs, meant to be folded over the edge of a collar or lapel, were first manufactured in 1924. They were often made of tin and typically bore only the candidates name.

Campaign paraphernalia is not limited to buttons and tabs. This hat from Mason Green's 1971 Lieutenant Governor's race was mass produced out of plastic and adorned with bumper stickers.

The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia activists wore buttons, ribbons, and sashes to campaign for their right to vote.

Lucy Stone was a prominent abolitionist and women's rights activist of the 19th century. Her name is often not as widely recognized as Susan B. Anthony Elizabeth Cady Stanton, though she inspired these women and many others to work for women’s suffrage through her oration.

“I Take Her Paper” refers to the Woman's Journal, a suffrage newspaper which was founded in 1870 by Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Brown Blackwell.

Your Vote, Your Voice
This election season, we hope you'll pay attention to how the candidates advertise to the public. Perhaps they'll use some of the same methods as their predecessors. Will you wear you party allegiance on your sleeve? Be it buttons, tabs, or top hats, these items will fall into the long tradition of American political ephemera. For further exploration of the collections at the Library of Virginia, visit &
Credits: Story

Research, text, and arrangement by Dana Puga, Prints and Photographs Collection Specialist, Manuscripts & Special Collections Department. Editing and assistance from Sonya Coleman, Digital Collections Specialist.

Imaging by Paige Buchbinder, Photo & Digital Imaging Services Department.

Images from the Visual Studies Collection and the Organization Records Collection, Manuscripts & Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

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.