This cartoon by artist Ralph Barton was published on February 20, 1915, in Puck, a monthly national humor and political satire magazine published in New York. The cartoon depicts wealthy society women dressed in ball gowns, engaging in leisure activities such as card playing and dancing, while an attendant comes to collect their ballots in an attractively decorated box. The image is striking because of the pampered lifestyle and expensive surrounding. The well-groomed poodle with a bow in its fur appears in the foreground as another symbol of wealth and excess.
The cartoon satirizes antisuffragists, who fought against efforts made for women's right to vote. Groups like the Virginia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (VAOWS) formed to speak out in opposition to prosuffrage organizations such as the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia (ESL). While the ESL spoke of woman's rights and democracy for all United States citizens, the VAOWS used the separate sphere argument, believing that women's role was confined to the home and that if women were out participating in the men's public sphere, the family would ultimately be neglected.
Prosuffrage women were often middle class, while many antisuffragists came from the elite upper class. Suffragists argued that elite, antisuffragists were trapped in a dated, conservative system that emphasized gender roles that no longer suited the modern woman. As suffrage advocate Harriot Stanton Blatch characterized the elite antisuffragists, “The anti-suffragist is the isolated woman, she is the belated product of the eighteenth century. She is not intentionally, viciously selfish, she has merely not developed into twentieth century fellowship.” Ironically, antisuffragists would have referred to suffragists as the selfish ones for disregarding their natural roles as wives and mothers.
This cartoon is an example of caricature, an artistic style that parodies the individual. Political cartoons are usually composed of caricature and allusion, or reference perhaps symbolically to a particular situation or event. Designed to affect the viewer's opinion, the cartoon comments on serious issues while presenting them in a funny or provocative manner. Barton's cartoon reflects the Art Deco style, which peaked in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s.
Caricaturist Ralph Barton was born on August 14, 1891, in Kansas City, Missouri. He was one of the most highly paid and popular cartoonists of his time. He is best known for his cartoons of celebrities and other high-profile public figures. Barton said of his artistry as “It is not the caricaturist's job to be penetrating. It is his job to put down the figure a man cuts before his fellows in his attempt to conceal the writhing of his soul.” He worked for many magazines including the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Judge and Life, an early humor magazine. He hoped to be a serious painter but popularity got in the way. While success in his professional life soared, personally Barton suffered greatly. Four failed marriages coupled with depression caused Barton to commit suicide on May 20, 1931, less than three months before his fortieth birthday.
1. What reasons did antisuffragists give for being opposed to woman suffrage?
2. How were cartoons used to shape opinions in politics?
3. What do you think caricaturist Ralph Barton was trying to say with this cartoon?
1. Compare this cartoon with "The Age of Brass, Broadside Satirizing Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869." How are these two images of women at the ballot box similar? How are they different? What can you learn about the stances of political movements that created these portrayals of women?
Marshall, Susan E. Splintered Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Campaign Against Woman Suffrage. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997, 17–18.
Kellner Bruce. The Last Dandy, Ralph Barton: American Artist, 1891–1931. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.
McCammon, Holly J. "'Out of the Parlors and into the Streets': The Changing Tactical Repertoire of the U.S. Woman Suffrage Movements." Social Forces 81, no. 3 (March, 2003): 787–818.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. "Working Women, Class Relations, and Suffrage Militance: Harriot Stanton Blatch and the New York Woman Suffrage Movement, 1894–1909."Journal of American History 74, no. 1 (June, 1987): 34–58.