In my post Suffragettes – Pictures say a Thousand Words, I touched on the subject of Edwardian propaganda. The battle (as at times it was a battle) for women to achieve the vote, is remembered this centenary year of the Representation of the People Act which permitted some women who met property rules, the right to vote.
Suffragists, like Millicent Fawcett, used diplomacy and law-abiding methods to convince parliament to change legislation in favour of the enfranchisement of women. However, during the early 1900s, with Fawcett’s quiet pressure going nowhere, new more visible protagonists entered stage left.
The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) lead by Emmeline Pankhurst and two of her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, rallied loud and membership grew with like-minded women who were willing to subvert social mores. Their campaign for woman suffrage became increasingly violent and those wishing to shake the male patriarchy to its knees suddenly had their leaders who were willing to make headlines.
Soon they were labelled suffragettes, it was a term coined by a national newspaper intending to belittle and besmirch their intentions, but the WSPU latched onto the new name which differentiated themselves from their more peaceful counterparts. The term suffragette was synonymous with militancy, lawlessness and vociferous and lively agitators who were not afraid to upset the established social order.
Anti-suffrage campaigners used picture postcards to publicise their opposition to women gaining electoral equality with men. It was an easy way to propagandise an argument and without modern technology, the post was the conduit for spreading discourse from both sides of the argument. They mocked suffragettes as ugly rabble-rousers, unfeminine and poor mothers as their priorities were not focussed on home and family – they were the total antithesis of what females were supposed to be.
The postcards that survive this era offer a glimpse of the vitriol that was directed at suffrage campaigners. The one above is mild in comparison to some and portrays an overweight female with a blackened eye, presumably after fighting with the policeman witness. I previously used this image to illustrate a blog post. This week I have bought my own copy. Collecting suffragette postcards can be an expensive hobby so I may be slow to build up a collection. Images though can be found online.
The card above featuring the suffragette Madonna is from an American series of anti-suffrage cards. It portrays the perceived emasculation of men who would be left in command of women’s work if the women of the house were agitating for voting rights. Fears of female autonomy were the same on both sides of the Atlantic.
Presumably, the unattractive rotund female, sporting unkempt hair above, is meant to be Christabel or Sylvia Pankhurst as the title is ‘Miss’ rather than ‘Mrs’ for the matriarch of the family. As with other depictions of suffragettes, this derivation of Pankhurst into Spankdfirst informs the reader that the suffragette is akin to a recalcitrant child who needs spanking.
The card above is comprised of classic suffragette colours of green and purple. The suffragette dressed in purple is being chased by a policeman. The card suggests that she turn over a new leaf and become the epitome of womanhood, a pink-garbed blonde, cradling a baby. Its tag-line ‘Happy New Year to a New Woman’ subliminally suggests that females would be happier subscribing to gender norms and acting on maternal instincts.
The image above depicts a pouting female child who is about to become a suffragette. She has been crying and is surrounded by broken toys further demonstrating her immaturity. She is also in the process of dressing in male clothing – note the trousers she is donning as she is trying to step into the male sphere. Its catchphrase ‘Nobody Loves Me’ is informing womankind that if they follow this route they will remain unloved and alone.
Mass produced postcards that were cheap to buy and cheap to post were ever-present in the pre-mass-communication early twentieth century. The cards that survive show that both sides of the suffrage argument could cleverly twist facts into glorious copy. What a gift to the caricaturists and writers was the name Pankhurst when you can turn it into Spankdfirst?
However, whilst some postcards amused, others depicted the crueller side of opposing women the right to vote. Many displayed scenes of torture, propagandised threats to females promising that this would be their fate if they followed in the Pankhursts’ shoes, for example, being tied to a chair or force-fed like the images below. Not a fate for genteel Edwardian ladies, but one that befell the women who fought for equal voting rights who are rightly remembered this centenary year.
If you would like to read more about postcards you may like to read a post dedicated to Using Postcards for Family History.
If you would like to read about suffragettes attacking the post click here.
Images from Pinterest unless stated.