Womenâ€™s Suffrage: Getting creative
Recently, I attended an event at the National Archives celebrating 100 years of womenâ€™s suffrage. Whilst there, I listened to a talk about Edith Garrud, the woman who taught â€˜Suffragette jiu-jitsuâ€™. She was one of the first professional female martial arts instructors in the world, teaching suffragettes how to defend themselves in difficult, violent situations. These skills were also used in comedy performances, where policemen were shown to be overpowered by the â€˜underdogâ€™ suffragettes. These performances were an accessible form of entertainment and helped to raise support for the suffrage movement.
Although news reports were often negative about the suffrage movement, supporters found new ways of changing public opinion, particularly in the form of cartoons and art pieces. Adam Matthew's recently published resource Gender, Identity and Social Change includes plenty of highly visual contemporary material which supports this view. The U.S. cartoon by C.D. Batchelor (pictured below) shows a woman carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Batchelor writes: â€˜It is a manâ€™s loss as well as her own that a womanâ€™s influence is unused. There is nowhere a more glaring instance of the waste of natural resourcesâ€™.
One of the arguments against women having the vote was that the household would fall apart if women began taking an active role in politics. The image below utilises the traditional role of the mother in the home, taking care of the children, with the caption â€˜Double the power of the home â€“ two good votes are better than oneâ€™. The cartoon uses a widely accepted image of the woman as caregiver to change perspectives â€“ she is still a mother, capable of raising children and increasing the power of the householdâ€™s influence on politics.
Men who were against the movement were turned into comedy figures in publications. The old man in the cartoon below ignores the lashing rain around him as he clings to his old umbrella, representing his outdated views. The umbrella is shown to be tatty and insubstantial against the onslaught of evidence, promising hope for the future.
This image goes further in illustrating the dissenters as corrupt and dangerous, hiding in ambush from the stoic figure of a woman carrying a suffrage bill. This has an almost pantomime quality to it, with a clear hero and villain. Looking at that image, itâ€™s unlikely that anyone would want to be associated with the crowd clutching weapons labelled â€˜white slaverâ€™ or â€˜corrupt politicianâ€™â€¦
The creative ways in which suffragists sought to demonstrate the importance of their cause offer a fascinating insight into the views of society at the time and highlight how crucial these methods were in fighting for change.