Picturing Political PowerImages in the Women's Suffrage Movement

Picturing Political PowerImages in the Women's Suffrage Movement

Allison K. Lange

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226703244

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Picturing Political Power analyzes images of political power from the nation’s founding through the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Building on scholarship that focuses on antislavery and civil rights imagery, the book demonstrates the centrality of visual politics—the strategic use of images to promote a cause or candidate—to women’s rights campaigns over the long nineteenth century. Powerful opponents of women’s rights printed popular satirical pictures to reinforce dominant gender norms and women’s relationships with the state. In response, reformers distributed portraits and propaganda to contest them. Suffragists found that they needed to engage in this visual conversation to change widespread perceptions of political women and win support. Unlike their lectures and pamphlets that reached select audiences, Americans encountered these pictures everywhere. Illustrated newspapers, decorative parlor prints, and photographic portraits prompted the rise of visual culture, which facilitated shared understandings of the nation. Popular pictures constructed dominant ideas about race and gender. Individual leaders initially incorporated visual strategies from other movements and, ultimately, professionals coordinated innovative national campaigns that laid the foundations for modern ones. While many suffrage histories analyze the movement’s internal politics, this book situates reformers within the context of public political conversations. Anti-suffragists dominated, even without a national organization, during the nineteenth century. Therefore, they prove central to this broader visual debate about gender and politics. This wide lens captures a broader range of women’s activism, organizations, and important leaders. Black women—including Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, and Mary Church Terrell—stand out as public image innovators.