1890 - 1917

Women's Suffrage Memorabilia

Women's Suffrage Memorabilia

"Failure is Impossible”
Susan B. Anthony--1906

The purpose of this exhibit is to provide scholars, historians, and those with a general interest in the suffrage movement access to images of the memorabilia that so attracted activists as they made their final push in both England and America to achieve the franchise.  A collage of various items representing that memorabilia appears in the image panel to the right.

The official start of the campaign for Women's Rights in America was, of course, the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, but the production of memorabilia for that campaign did not enter its golden age until the 1890's, when new manufacturing techniques brought about the introduction of the modern post card, the souvenir spoon, the lapel button or badge, and other such artifacts.  With war on the horizon in 1917, the manufacture of memorabilia dropped off considerably, even though the passage of a national suffrage amendment was to be three years away.

If you are interested in knowing more about the images that are represented in this exhibit, click on the panel in which they appear and then pull down the “Details” button at the top left,  or consult Kenneth Florey, “Women's Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study,” published in 2013 by McFarland Press.

The china to the right was ordered by Newport socialite Mrs. Alva Belmont from the English firm of John Maddock and Sons for use in the lunch room at the headquarters of her Political Equality Association in New York, The small restaurant was intended specifically for working girls. Certain pieces of the set could be purchased there also, such as the creamer, which sold for 25 cents.  They made their appearance again in 1914 at a large celebration at Mrs. Belmont's Marble House Mansion in Rhode Island, when her daughter, the Duchess of Marborough, returned from England.  Other suffrage china was distributed in America, but pieces from this set are, by far, the most widely seen today.

The English suffragists produced far more china than did their American counterparts. The example from above was distributed by Women's Political and Social Union and designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the WSPU.  The set with the trumpeter transfer was first sold at the Exhibition held at the Prince's Skating Rink in Knightsbridge on May 13-26, 1909, It was later reproduced for WSPU shops. The original set included a teapot along with six cups and saucers.

The china pictured below, like the set to the left, was made by Williamson's of Staffordshire.  It features the Holloway or Portcullis image modified by Sylvia Pankhurst from a design that appeared originally on the crest of the House of Commons.  Only the cup and saucer along with the creamer are known, but probably other pieces were ordered as well. The arrow on the gate represents the design that appeared on the prison uniforms of incarcerated suffrage prisoners. 

Although printed ribbons appeared in political campaigns as early as the first quarter of the 19th century, it was to take more than 50 years before any type of corresponding suffrage ribbon was to emerge on the scene.

During the failed suffrage campaign in Kansas in 1867, which attracted both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as volunteers, local workers fashioned not printed but home-made cloth ribbons in yellow, the color of the state flower of Kansas, the sunflower. The idea of the yellow ribbon as a suffrage symbol quickly spread out of that state, and by 1887 one pro-suffrage journal could proclaim that yellow “had been adopted as the distinguishing badge of the woman suffrage army.” It became the official color of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, whose buttons and ribbons typically were made in yellow or gold. Many ribbons were printed to be used as convention delegate badges, but some were worn in parades.

Most ribbons were used as delegate badges at conventions, but there are some exceptions, including the 1894 Kansas ribbon pictured above that was issued by a newspaper.

           NAWSA issued delegate ribbons right up to its final convention  in 1920

On June 21, 1908, when the English WSPU held its first major demonstration at Hyde Park, participants were urged to “Wear the Colors,” the new official scheme of purple, green, and white. By wearing the colors in marches and demonstrations, suffragists not only showed to a sometimes skeptical public how popular an issue “Votes for Women” was, but also promoted their own particular organization.

Most suffrage associations both in America and England had their own, distinctive set of official colors.  In America, the mainstream National American Woman Suffrage Association had adopted yellow from the Kansas sunflower as early as 1867. Some of the more militant (although non-violent) American groups, such as the Women's Political Union, borrowed the WSPU's color scheme, showing solidarity with their English sisters.

The two sashes to the right were probably used in New York during the marches that were held in that state from circa 1910-1917.  Frequently they were worn over a white dress, allowing their colors to stand out to the crowd. Occasionally they contained the name of their  issuing group, but generally the color scheme was enough to identify the association that had produced it.

Although most people think of the sash when they have an image of the marchers in suffrage parades, other items such as umbrellas and pennants could also carry a message. The umbrella at the left was distributed nationally by the National American Woman Suffrage Association and sold to supporters for $1 each and $10 per dozen.  This particular example has the name of the state of Idaho painted on, and was probably used in a demonstration that celebrated those states that at the time had granted women full voting rights.

The first pennants used in presidential campaigns appeared just after the turn of the century, and felt pennants supporting suffrage appeared soon after.  Most were nondescript, containing “Votes for Women” in black letters set against a yellow background. The three here are slightly more elaborate with the top piece showing Ella Buchanan's famous image of the suffragist arousing her sisters and the bottom pennant borrowing Caroline Watt's “Bugler Girl” design from England. The letters “WSP” stand for the “Woman Suffrage Party.”

During the four state Eastern Campaign of 1915, suffragists were especially inventive in creating novelties to draw the public's attention to the upcoming referenda in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The colorful foot-high tin bird on the left was nailed to telephone poles, fence posts, and trees around Boston on July 17 of that year, a date called “Suffrage Blue Bird Day” by local Massachusetts activists. Reportedly, over 100,000 of these birds were produced.

The tin thread holder on the right was named after Sarah Bagley, an early labor activist in Lowell, Massachusetts. Bagley left the city in 1848 to take care of an ill father, but her efforts on behalf of women workers were still remembered in 1915 when this particular piece was made.  State Headquarters awarded $500 in prize money to be divided among the top 17 women who had achieved the most in terms of their sale. Profits were divided equally between the State organization and local affiliates.

Perhaps the most popular form of memorabilia among suffragists was that of the post card.  Suffrage associations announced new cards in their journals and papers, they printed and published their own varieties, and, if they operated a suffrage shop of any sort, they were sure to have a supply available for sale.

Commercial publishers also took note, printing many more examples than even the suffragists, although many of the images on their cards were often negative. Illustrations of children were often featured on cards to add a tone of innocence to what otherwise could be an acrimonious topic. Suffragists took note of these commercial products in their newspapers if the images were positive ones, and many even collected them.

One of the most popular types of card was that of the “Real Photo,” which captured images of actual events, preserving them for the researcher.  “Real Photo” cards were especially popular in England, where several publishers served as “semi-official” photographers of the movement.

                  A set of six official artist drawn cards issued by NAWSA 

To respond to the fears of some that suffrage would lead to chaotic revolution, suffrage supporters often used iconic representations of children to deliver their message. Such imagery made suffrage appear both mainstream and non-threatening

The cards on the right display a theme common to anti-suffragists regarding the chaos and confusion that would come about if women achieved the vote.  Women would take over what were formerly considered to be all male occupations while men would stay home, minding the baby and washing clothes.

In 1907, Kodak introduced a new service for users of its pocket size cameras.  People could send them in photographs, and Kodak would affix them to post cards.  The resultant product was called a “Real Photo” post card.  Suffragists immediately took advantage of the new process.  It allowed them to photograph images that commercial photographers avoided, thus recording scenes of history that might otherwise have been lost.  Some activists, heeding advice found in “The Woman's Journal,” began making propaganda cards with pictures of their children holding placards upon which pro-suffrage slogans had been written and then selling them with proceeds going to the cause.  English suffragists exploited the new form even more than Americans, and some commercial photographers joined in; one of the most prominent of these was Christina Broom, who took up photographic publishing after her husband had become incapacitated. 

There were two English Associations that produced considerable art work for the English movement, the Suffrage Atelier and the Artists' Suffrage League. Women artists created posters and banners as well as designed post cards, some examples of which are shown to the left.

The English could be quite scathing in their portrayal of suffrage. The card picturing the devil running away from the suffragist here is but one of several on the theme, as is the card mocking the force feeding of the hunger striker. Emmeline Pankhurst is lampooned as "Mrs. Ortobee Spankedfirst.

Suffragists learned very early in the evolution of the movement about the value of music to inspire and transform. They set suffrage lyrics to popular tunes, generally religious or patriotic in nature, and distributed them on broadsheets and in booklets to be sung at rallies and demonstrations.

The sheet music pictured in the next several panels, though, was probably intended more for the parlor than for the mass meeting. Printed sheet music, as opposed to rally broadsides, appeared soon after the first Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, although most of these early pieces were negative in tone.  Suffrage sheet music in the 20th century featured a variety of colors and imagery.  It was produced by both suffragists themselves as well as by commercial publishers, whose efforts tended to focus on ridicule as opposed to support.

Some of these songs survive today on Edison type cylinders.

Suffrage fans, generally flat and made out of cardboard, were an especially popular form of memorabilia, particularly in those days that preceded air conditioning. They were a highly welcome give-away at ball games, picnics, horse races and other outdoor activities, even for those who did not otherwise support the suffrage movement.  They were very prominent in the referendum campaigns in New York and Massachusetts in 1915 and 1917. The illustration by Emily Chamberlain of two children in patriotic dress also was used on a post card.

Labels or Cinderella Stamps were very popular among suffragists, who placed them on letters, post cards, convention programs, and luggage. 

The casting of the Suffrage Liberty Bell was a major event in the 1915 Campaign in Pennsylvania.  A truck was specially fortified to carry it around to every county in that state.

In America, the celluloid button saw its first extensive use  in 1896 when William Jennings Bryan ran against William McKinley for President.  Advertisers quickly saw their potential to promote a product, and many buttons were soon made for that purpose.

Suffrage activists in England and America were probably the first to use the form to promote a social cause as opposed to a political campaign, and, accordingly, hundreds of varieties appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. English examples often had an enamel rather than celluloid finish.

Most suffrage associations had their own official colors, which found their way onto their pins.  Also nearly ubiquitous was the phrase “Votes for Women” and the depiction of stars on the pin, the number of which indicated how many states at the time of issue had granted women the right to vote in presidential contests.

Suffragists collected these buttons and advertised for them in various movement journals of the period.


Given its size and influence, the National American Woman Suffrage Association produced few buttons, although their black on gold “Votes for Women” variety was the most widely used of any suffrage pin. The 1848 ruby glass stick pin in the upper left was produced in 1876 as NAWSA's first button. “Ballots for Both” was made to counter the fears that “Votes for Women” excluded men. The white enameled flag was based on an English design.

The Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, which produced the pin on the right for a demonstration in New Haven in 1916, was partially founded by Isabella Beecher Hooker, sister to Harriet Beecher Stowe. For a time, it was headed by Katharine Hepburn, mother of the actress. She was known for her aggressive but non-violent approaches to issues.

The two states that probably were responsible for producing more suffrage pins than any other were New York and New Jersey. The pins on the left are delegate badges from conventions of the New York Woman Suffrage Association. NYWSA, unlike other such groups, was not hesitant to picture their leaders on buttons. The pin located at the bottom panel, contains the image of Ella Crossett, one of the organization's presidents. Several of the New Jersey pins to the right refer to October 19. That was the day in 1915 that the state held a referendum on suffrage that, unfortunately, went down to defeat. Ironically, NJ women had, temporarily, the right to vote in 1776.

Among the most attractive suffrage buttons of all, pictured on the right, were those distributed by the Women's Political Union, founded in 1910 by Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton's daughter. For her organization, Blatch modified the name of the militant English WSPU and borrowed their official colors of purple, green, and white. The Clarion image comes from a design created by Caroline Watts for the English movement.

English suffrage associations honored their members who had been imprisoned for the cause with special pins. The first, pictured at the top right of the next panel, was given out in 1908 by the Women's Freedom League. The recipient's name was inscribed on the back of the brooch. Just below is the Holloway Badge, designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of the founder of the Women's Social and Political Union, Emmeline Pankhurst. It was modeled after the crest of the House of Commons, and contained the image of the arrow, imprinted on the dress of WSPU prisoners.  The most famous prison badge of all, however, was the “Hunger Strike” medal, given out to all WSPU prisoners who refused food in Holloway, and were eventually force fed. It came in a silk lined box, with the honoree's name in gold print (in this case, Lavender Guthrie). Her name was also etched on the back of the medal, the front containing the words “Hunger Strike.” 

Suffrage newspapers and journals first appear in the mid-nineteenth century, reflecting in part the suffragists' frustration at not finding much news of their activities in the mainstream press. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began their own short-lived “The Revolution” in 1869.  Lucy Stone's “Woman's Journal,” was the longest lived, and served for a while as the official organ of both AWSA and NAWSA.  The English “Votes for Women” was put out by the WSPU. The most notorious of the group was “Woodhull and Claflin's” Weekly, which landed Victoria Woodhull in jail for obscenity.

The suffrage issue graced the covers of American popular magazines as far back as the mid-19th century, when the movement and its adherents were usually ridiculed.  As suffrage became more and more popular with women, these periodicals began shifting positions, perhaps out of a general enlightenment of their editors, perhaps out of an economic fear that women would not continue to purchase them if they continued to be hostile to suffrage.  The theme of suffrage made frequent appearances in both “Life” and “Frank Leslie's Weekly.”

Bright, colorful posters, as well as simple black and white broadsides were a common feature to the suffrage movement in the 20th century, The English were especially fond of publishing pieces rendered by artists.

The only example of a suffrage produced cosmetic known to exist is this small 1 1/2“ round box of ”Votes for Women“ Face Powder.  Alva Belmont did sell various grooming products at the ”Department of Hygiene" at the New York Office of her Political Equality Association.  These products, however, were all commercial brands and did not have a suffrage tie-in. Mrs. Belmont believed that good grooming along with the vote were both essential for women to achieve empowerment. Young activists may have experimented with rouge and lipstick, but generally these types of products were probably frowned upon by the older guard, who wished to portray suffrage as a non-threatening addition to the traditional fabric of the American tapestry.

This 2" celluloid dime bank, a product of the Michigan suffrage campaign of 1917, was one of several such items issued by suffrage organizations throughout the country at this time.  The hope was that women of limited income would fill the bank with coins and return it to their local headquarters. While a dime was worth considerably more than it is today, the filling of this bank was, nevertheless, a seemingly painless way for even a relatively poor shop girl to make a contribution to the cause. Cardboard banks, shaped like actual banks, were also distributed.

Suffragists sold a variety of playing cards both in America and England, insisting that they not be purchased for gambling. 

The anti-suffrage movement, despite being well-funded, particularly by the liquor industry who feared that suffrage would lead to prohibition, produced little in the way of memorabilia.  One worker explained this lack by indicating that the anti-forces did not want to follow the lead of suffragists in developing a strategy for their arguments.  What minimal items were produced generally tended to be fashioned in red (or pink), which was the official color of the anti's. Most fans that they distributed tended to be both cheaply designed and manufactured. The pennant shown here is one of the few examples of such a piece to have survived, The suffragists produced far more buttons and poster stamps than did their adversaries.

Even though women in most states were not permitted to vote for President until 1920, some localities did allow them to cast a ballot in municipal elections.  Special ballot boxes were created for women to prevent them from secretly voting for other offices. If they did, their votes could be identified and thrown out. The Woman Suffrage Party ticket from 1876 was the result of a temporary alliance between suffragists and prohibitionists. Women agreed to work for temperance candidates if they would support suffrage. The booklet on the right was given out to women in Boston in the 1880's when they gained the right to vote for members of the local school board.  It listed not only eligibility requirements for voting but also procedures on how to vote.

Victoria Woodhull and Belva Lockwood were the first two women to run for president in this country, the former in 1872 and the latter in 1884 and 1888.  Neither, of course, was nominated by a major party, and both of their campaigns generated controversy within the movement itself.

Woodhull was known for her radical stands on a number of issues, including that of “free love,” and it was feared by many suffrage workers that her notoriety would reflect poorly on women in general.  Lockwood, who had earned a degree in law along with the right to argue before the Supreme Court, may have been considered less outrageous by the public, but there were still many women who feared that a candidacy for any woman would bring about mockery and detract from the legitimacy of the suffrage issue.  All of the ribbons pictured in the panel to the right that allegedly were made to support her candidacy were actually produced by men's groups lampooning her campaign through marches and satiric demonstrations in which participants dressed as women.

Before the advent of buttons, ribbons, and post cards, the most popular form of suffrage memorabilia involved that of photographic images of famous women.  These were passed out or sold by suffragists either at rallies or through their journals, primarily in two forms, the Carte de Visite and the Cabinet Photo.

The Carte was introduced to this country from France around 1860, and consisted of a sepia photo mounted to a piece of thin cardboard that measured approximately 2 1/2“ x 4”. Popular to about 1880, the Carte was gradually supplanted by the larger Cabinet Photo (4 1/2“ x 6 1/2”). Most Cartes and Cabinets consisted of pictures of family members and were intended for the family album.  Many pictures of famous people, however, were made commercially, and were eagerly bought up by a public who wanted something more substantial than the lithographic representations of celebrities then available in newspapers and periodicals.

Examples of period Cartes and Cabinets can be found on the previous two panels as well as on the next three, which picture Sojourner Truth, George Francis Train, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The quixotic George Francis Train had many connections with the suffrage movement. When he ran for President as an independent in 1872, support for suffrage was one of his planks. He distributed many varieties of Cartes of himself, which he frequently autographed.

Both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were frequently photographed, and their Cartes and  Cabinet Photos were both sold and given out free to supporters. Some were distributed through their paper, “Revolution.”

Alice Paul, who often focused on the visual in promoting the movement, nevertheless distributed  to supporters little in the way of colorful objects of memorabilia. The “Jailed for Freedom” brooch was modeled after Sylvia Pankhurst's Holloway design.

The Political Equality Association was founded in 1909 in New York by wealthy Newport socialite, Alva Belmont. Mrs. Belmont's imperious attitude turned off many in the movement, including Carrie Chapman Catt, but many suffrage organizations did welcome her money.  The official color of the PEA was blue, although Mrs. Belmont refused to wear it during marches.  Her headquarters featured a lunch room for working women, along with a beauty shop that she referred to a “The Department of Hygiene.” Items pictured here include a button, a celluloid mirror, and a pennant.

Most ceramic figures dealing with suffrage themes were made in Germany, and many of those by the firm of Schafer and Vater for the English market. Animals such as geese, cats, and dogs were popular subjects as well as policemen (bobbies) dealing with militant children suffragists. American examples include the whiskey flask in the rear of this collage, which depicts Teddy Roosevelt dressed as a suffragette, and Rose O'Neill's Kewpie Doll, all in white with a “Votes for Women” sash.  O'Neill was a major supporter of suffrage.

The ceramic bells on the right were distributed in various English resort towns.  On one side was the figure of a beautiful woman imprinted with a positive suffrage slogan. On the other was a harridan, generally identified with “Sairey Gamp,” a dissolute, sloppy, and alcoholic nurse from Charles Dickens' novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” Theoretically the figure was neutral, but since the town crest was imprinted on the Gamp side, the manufacturer probably assumed that potential purchasers were largely  anti-suffrage in sentiment.

Many of the older generation suffragists were just as opposed to the use of tobacco as they were to alcohol.  When it was rumored that the Women's Political Union planned to sell cigarettes in the new suffrage shop they were opening in December of 1910, Lucy Gaston Page, head of the Anti-Cigarette League, but a friend of the WPU, came all the way from Chicago to investigate.  They turned out to be chocolate, but the WPU did sell cigarettes made out of tobacco in 1912, as did the WSPU in England. The 19th century items pictured below, a mock-up cardboard box  for “Women's Rights Smoking Tobacco,” a tobacco box for a similar sounding brand, and a pipe picturing a figure of undetermined gender with a hat proclaiming “Votes for Women,” are all negative in intent.

To the right is a  grouping of suffrage themed games and toys. Most suffrage games, including various board games, were designed for adults, not children, and were intended to combine suffrage instruction with entertainment. The few non-satiric dolls that appear were generally hand-made and of limited issue. There were a few games of Old Maid, with the suffragist, of course, representing the old maid, but, even with the hostility to the movement, their production was limited.  American suffragists passed out several varieties of whirligigs or spinners. Most board games were of English manufacture.

Credits: Story

Role — Exhibit created by Dr. Kenneth Florey, Professor Emeritus, Southern Connecticut State University, Author of "Women's Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study," McFarland Press, 2013
Role — Photographs by Emilia Dina van Beugen

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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