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“Fine Dignity, Picturesque Beauty, and Serious Purpose”:

The Reorientation of Suffrage Media in the Twentieth Century

Emily Scarbrough, Author

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Changing Fashions -- She Used to Be Satisfied with So Little

The cartoon “Changing Fashions – She Used to Be Satisfied with So Little,” first appeared in The Suffragist in March, 1915. The cartoon captures Allender’s famous knack for promoting the feminine suffragist. The cartoon features an astonished looking man concerned with the extravagant, beautiful dress of a suffragist labeled “National Constitutional Amendment.” The suffragist has the names of several states hanging from her hat and belt, indicating that she has many states in the sights of her suffrage aims. The upper right corner showcases the style of 1884, which only has the states Montana and Wyoming on her dress. The cartoon suggests that suffragists are going to keep pushing for suffrage until they win the right to vote for women of every state. The appearance of the suffragist is extremely significant because she is youthful and well-dressed. By presenting suffragists within existing standards of beauty, Allender suggest that suffragists could easily fit the mold created by Gibson and others. Even though the suffragist pictured is ambitious in her aims for national enfranchisement, she does not appear pushy, bossy, or shrewd. She instead, reflects popular views of how women should carry themselves. Allender presents a vision of suffragists that fits very much into the cultural, gender norms of the Progressive Era.
In 1914 when NAWSA released Your Girl and Mine (1914), a film that promoted this version of the woman’s suffrage campaign. It was met with a review that argued the lead actress “makes a winsome figure of Equal Suffrage and, if all suffragettes were as fair to look upon, it is safe to say ‘Votes for Women’ would be a reality in every state in the Union today.”[1] The suffragists created a vision of themselves that promoted beauty and grace. Nina Allender created the girl in print, but by navigating all elements of the emerging phenomenon of mass culture, suffragists presented a uniform and unshakable vision of suffragists as young, bright, and beautiful.
            The Allender girl became a mainstay of the suffrage vision through a variety of media: newspapers, political cartoons, public displays like parades, pageants, and tableaus, postcards, and film. Each of these avenues presented a few specific tropes central to the suffrage campaign. Suffragists used allegory from historical and mythological figures, militant heroic women, citizens of the United States, martyrs willing to suffer for their freedom, and vanguards against graft. Along all of these paths, however, suffragists maintained a singular vision of themselves as feminine, young, beautiful, and used these blueprints to suggest all the other things that suffrage could and would accomplish.

[1]  “Has Initial Showing,” MotographyOctober 31, 1914.
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