Why suffragists wore white, and more feminist symbols decoded

It took more than 150 years for american and british suffragists to gain women ’ mho good to vote—decades filled with conflict, forfeit, and fervent attempts to sway public opinion. And those efforts at persuasion didn ’ metric ton constantly involve speeches or personal appeals. Suffragists used ocular symbolism to help the public visualize a world in which women could participate in the political serve. Some emblems were understanding ways to help suffragists stick out in a herd. Others signified the value that women would bring to public life sentence if given the right to vote—although sometimes they obscured the contributions women of tinge made to the right to vote movement. From angry cats to women in white dresses, here ’ s your guide to some of the most potent symbols of the women ’ s right to vote movement .

White, purple, and yellow

The women ’ mho movement didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate trust on ocular symbols at first, notes historian Einav Rabinovitch-Fox. That changed in the early twentieth hundred, when suffragists in England and the United States realized that ocular symbolism was a means to get their message across. british suffragists were the foremost to use the colors purple, white, and fleeceable and, inspired by that exemplar, the National Woman ’ s Party, the militant U.S. organization dedicated to enshrining women ’ s right to vote in the Constitution, adopted white, purple and yellow as its colors.

Suffragists marching in Washington DC in 1913 Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized practice is prohibited. Each color had its own mean. Purple meant commitment, and gold “ the color of light and life … the blowtorch that guides our function, arrant and unswerving. ” For british suffragists, green symbolized hope. But white, symbolizing purity, is the semblance most associated with suffragists today. hanker associated with youth, virginity, and moral virtue, white suggested that women could be expected to vote for politicians and policies that would better society. In massive right to vote parades, white-clad women contrasted with the crowd of darkly dressed men. The discolor had hardheaded benefits, excessively. “ White cotton dresses made an impression en masse, were systematically in style, relatively cheap, and easy to maintain, ” writes Sarah Gordon, curatorial learner at the Center for Women ’ s History at the New York Historical Society .

State symbols 

A bird pin used during the American suffrage movement Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized consumption is prohibited. American women besides conducted state-by-state attempts to gain right to vote. These efforts often generated their own symbols. One was the sunflower, the state flower of Kansas. Suffragists there began the fight deoxyadenosine monophosphate soon as Kansas became a territory in 1854, adopting the submit ’ mho flower and its color, yellow, as they worked toward an 1867 referendum granting wax statewide right to vote. They lost the referendum—and it would take another 25 years to obtain the right to vote in statewide election—but the symbol was late adopted by national suffragists who saw it as a potent signal of women ’ s organizing exponent. ( Here’s what the 19th Amendment did—and didn’t—do for women in 1920. ) The bluebird, which represented cheerfulness and hope, held special meaning for Massachusetts suffragists, who adopted it as their official symbol during their attack to get the vote in their state. In 1908, The Blue Bird, a popular play by Maurice Maeterlinck, had become an international sensation. The fairy-tale-like play told the report of two children ’ mho search for the “ blue boo of happiness, ” which they finally find in their own backyard. In 1915, during their campaign to sway a state vote referendum, the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association capitalized on the symbol and gave out 100,000 “ Votes for Women ” bluebird signs that were displayed throughout the state. But despite the bright bird ’ sulfur high visibility, the referendum failed and women waited six more years to gain right to vote there .


Birds weren ’ t the entirely animals that gained relevance in the struggle for right to vote. Cats became one of the movement ’ s most enduring symbols—and their mean evolved over fourth dimension as men and women grappled with what it would mean for women to participate in the political serve. “ Cats appeared more frequently … than any other animal, ” writes historian Kenneth Florey, who chalks it up to the popularity of the animals on the era ’ s democratic right to vote postcards, which conveyed both digest and contempt for the suffragist ’ south lawsuit.

a suffrage posted depicting a cat holding a suffragist in its mouth Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited. At first, cats were an anti-suffrage symbol. In the nineteenth century, cats and dogs had gendered associations. Dogs, known for being active, were associated with men, and cats were associated with women, who were expected to remain within their designated celestial sphere of fireplace and home. Women who deviated from social norms were sometimes portrayed as hissing outdoor cats, the antithesis of the equable housecat. Anti-suffragists feared that men ’ mho maleness would be diminished as women entered public life. As a result, cats frequently appeared on postcards that depicted men forced to perform “ feminine ” tasks such as the laundry, childcare, or cook. An english law lent the symbol evening more world power. In 1913, British Parliament passed the Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act in reply to the increasing use of starve strikes by competitive suffragists, who were imprisoned for things like smashing windows, setting mailboxes on fire, and engaging in arson and bombings to gain attention for their cause. The law ended the habit of violence feed in imprison, which had generated intense public cry, and allowed prisoners on hunger come to to be released and re-imprisoned once their health improved. Women were subject to surveillance and control during their temp releases from jail, however, and the police was promptly nicknamed the “ Cat and Mouse Act. ” A few years late, two american suffragists embraced the vomit as a pro-suffrage symbol during a countrywide tour to promote right to vote. In April 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke set out in the “ Golden Flyer, ” a car donated by the Saxon Motor Company, and drove from New York to California and back, giving speeches and newspaper interviews along the direction. They took a kitten named Saxon with them, and the cat generated promotion of its own as the wardrobe documented its growth over the six-month stumble. ( The Spanish flu nearly derailed the women’s suffrage movement. )

Jail cells

british suffragists weren ’ t the only ones jailed for their study on behalf of the vote. american suffragists, excessively, faced arrest and imprisonment for their protests and publicity attempts. Throughout 1917 and 1918, a group of “ Silent Sentinels “ —women who stood in front of the White House holding signs imploring President Woodrow Wilson to support suffrage—were imprisoned. In an incidental now known as the Night of Terror, they were dragged, beaten, and tortured by prison guards. In the days that followed, the women were force-feed and brutalized .Suffragist Helena Hill Weed in prison in Washington DC Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited. Their treatment sparked public indignation, and all of the women were released. Afterward, the National Woman ’ s Party acknowledged the women ’ sulfur ordeal with silver pins in the shape of a imprison cell door with cordate locks, designed by illustrator and suffragist Nina Allender .

The Allender Girl

Allender besides helped change the pigeonhole of suffragists—who were frequently depicted in the media as masculine, surly spinsters—with a character known as the Allender Girl. The fictional character was “ an attractive, energetic, slender young suffragist, ” writes historian Alice Sheppard. The depicting challenged public fears that women would lose their femininity if they gained political power. between 1914 and 1927, Allender would draw more than 150 political cartoons, many featuring the Allender Girl, for the National Woman ’ s Party ’ randomness publications .a drawing of a suffragist woman by Nina Allender Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited. But though the Allender Girl reflected the department of energy and enthusiasm of the motion, it besides perpetuated a myth that all suffragists were ashen and economically privileged, erasing the contributions of women of color and gains across class and age boundaries.

“ For besides long, the history of how women won the correct to vote [ has been ] top-heavy and dominated by a few iconic leaders, all white and native-born, ” explains historian Susan Ware in a 2019 Washington Post  opinion piece. “ Thousands of unannounced women representing a vibrant mix of regions, races and generations came together in one of the most significant moments of political mobilization in all of american history. ” White women finally gained right to vote in 1920, but it would be another half-century before all women ’ randomness vote rights were protected nationally with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. ( Although women won the vote, the fight for equality isn’t over. ) While the use of cats, colors, and iconic manner helped stir up energy for the right to vote bowel movement, it took wide-scale social change to make women ’ randomness right to vote a reality—as well as the legal grok, civil disobedience, and indefatigable constitution of its advocates .

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