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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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The Allender Girl

            A gifted artist and passionate suffragist, Nina Allender was born in 1872 in Kansas. Allender became involved with the movement in 1912. She was president of the Stanton Suffrage Club -- with a membership of around 400,
the club was the largest in the District of Columbia.[1] She was a proponent of actively advertising suffrage through parades, lectures, and literature. Allender became involved in the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and followed Paul and Burns when they broke from the group to form the National Woman's Party (NWP). She was instrumental in reshaping the image of suffragists in print media. The Allender Girl slowly replaced the mannish caricatures of older suffrage media. Allender portrayed suffragists as light, bright, young, and feminine. Her cartoons graced the covers and pages of The Suffragist -- the official organ of the NWP. Perhaps more than any other artist, Allender sought to re-brand American suffragist women. She worked against the long-standing stereotypes that began with the movement's inception. Instead of suggesting that politics would corrupt women, turn them into man hating, child abandoning, cruel spinsters, women could elevate politics. They would use the vote as a tool to extend their natural qualities -- motherhood and beauty -- to help purify politics, attack graft, and reform society.

            The cartoon "Changing Fashion -- 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 achieve a federal amendment. The appearance of the suffragist is extremely significant because she is youthful and well-dressed. Allender played with existing standards of beauty to suggest that suffragists could easily fit that mold. 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. In her cartoons, Allender presents a vision of suffragists that fits very much into the
cultural, gender norms of the Progressive Era.

            The Allender Girl developed from the older existing model of beauty that had come to dominate advertisements of the age. To create a character who espoused the values, virtues, and beauties of the age, Allender took inspiration from the quintessential ‘it’ girl from the 1890s-1920s – the Gibson Girl. The Girl had pouty lips, a button nose, white skin, groomed eyebrows, a slender frame, newest fashions and radiant youth. She rose to prominence with the innovation of ready to wear clothing for women. As clothing manufacturers sought to sell new designs every year, the advertising world developed “the standardized woman’s features… ubiquitous, presenting the one look that reiterated a particular year’s view of perfection.”[2]

[1] Emily Farnum, “Truths By Women Who Know,” The Washington Times (July 11, 1914), 4.

[2]Katherine Adams and Michael Keene, Seeing the American Woman, 1880-1920: The Social Impact of the Visual Media Explosion (London: McFarland & Co., 2012), 60.

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