We’re about to start week three of rehearsals for “Nothing Less!” so I thought I’d share another behind-the-scenes post about the history that has informed and inspired the play. This time, I’m tackling the anti-suffrage movement and how it found its way into homes across Canada, the US and the UK.
Postcards were extremely popular in the early 1900’s. People were keen to send, collect, and display them in their homes. Political cartoons were also wildly popular and often found their way from the newspapers in which they were printed, into the scrapbooks of middle-class families. Illustrations depicting anti-suffrage sentiments appeared in both formats and were distributed widely in North America and the UK.
The “arguments” presented via these illustrations ranged from, “a woman’s place is in the home,” to “only monstrous-looking old-maids want the vote.” Many showed men as the victims of women’s suffrage; left home to deal with crying babies, dirty dishes and mounds of laundry while the women were off engaging in the sphere of politics.
Still others portrayed suffragists as women-turned-monster, as if the mere act of wanting the vote had de-feminized them and made them more harpy than human. In some cases, the images even went so far as to suggest violence against women as a “cure” for the “woman question.”
If the idea of women voting was reprehensible to the anti’s, the thought of women playing a role in government was akin to blasphemy. Anti-suffragists predicted chaos and collapse if the unthinkable were ever to take place.
Needless to say, the anti-suffrage movement used the notion of “ideal womanhood” to its advantage, labelling any woman who dared call herself a suffragist as un-ladylike, unpatriotic and unacceptable. For women living in small towns and rural communities, speaking out often meant all eyes were on them. Many women met in secret, deciding it was the only safe way for them to participate.
Ultimately, the suffrage movement fought back with art of their own, putting forth their position with grace and sass. (Not unlike the sea of posters carried at women’s marches around the world this past January.)
While it would be easy to dismiss the anti-suffrage illustrations as “of their time,” they feel painfully timely, both in the current Trumpian political climate, and in the way women around the world are still struggling for voice, respect and equality.
“Nothing Less!” may be set in 1918, but the fight goes on.
People, places and things in this post:
For more historic images, check out this Smithsonian Magazine article.
The ties between the suffrage movement and Wonder Woman’s costume.
“Nothing Less!” opens July 8. For tickets, visit The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts.