"Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures -- About the Collection

Library of Congress staff selected this set of 38 images relating to woman suffrage from various files and collections in the Prints and Photographs Division and the Manuscript Division. It represents an expansion of a printed illustrated reference aid that the Prints and Photographs Division has made available since 1987. The principles guiding the selection of images were to provide images that have been popularly requested in the past, to include images of people and events that are mentioned prominently in standard works on women's suffrage, and to select images for which no copyright restrictions are known and that are of reasonable image quality. Portraits of women active on behalf of woman suffrage and, more generally, women's rights are included, as are images depicting the public, often symbolic, way in which suffragists campaigned for the right to vote. The set also features cartoons commenting on the movement, as well as a photograph depicting the activities of anti-suffragists, illustrating the manner and terms in which women's voting rights were debated.

In the nineteenth century, when women (and some men) first began to join forces to proclaim that women should have the right to vote and to participate as full citizens of the United States, it was unusual for women to go out in public to gather signatures for petitions, much less to step onto public platforms to speak . In many ways, then, the campaign for the right to vote represented the emergence of women into the public sphere. This "visibility" was documented and extended through the creation and distribution of visual images.

Some of the portraits in this set were made by commercial studio photographers, possibly for distribution to supporters of the suffrage campaign. Portraits of suffrage leaders were, for instance, given out for every $2 pledge to the suffrage cause during the 1896 suffrage campaign in California. Some of the portraits that came to the Library of Congress as copyright deposits may have been used for this type of publicity purpose.

Publicity was also a major objective of some suffrage events, particularly in the twentieth century. The parades , pageants and demonstrations that promoted woman suffrage were sometimes deliberately flamboyant in order to attract coverage by the press. This type of image came to the Library of Congress when it acquired the archives of such news photograph suppliers as George Grantham Bain and the National Photo Company.

Still other images come from national organizations and prominent individuals whose records, papers, and memorabilia the Library of Congress has acquired. Included among the images here, for instance, are portraits donated by May Wright Sewall, who was an officer in the National American Woman Suffrage Association as well as in several international suffrage organizations. Some of the featured suffrage campaign photos and ephemera were originally presented, along with textual records, by the League of Women Voters--an offshoot of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The fact that people collected and donated the images suggests the importance of pictures not only in promoting the cause of woman suffrage but, for the individuals who participated, in memorializing that effort.

The effort to memorialize the courageous women who fought to expand women's voting rights began even before the suffrage campaign itself had ended. Included is a photograph of Adelaide Johnson's statue of the "mothers of woman suffrage": Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The statue was presented to Congress by the National Woman's Party on behalf of the women of the United States and was accepted by the Joint Committee on the Library on February 15, 1921. The Joint Committee directed that the statue be displayed temporarily in the Capitol Rotunda, before being removed in May of the same year to the Capitol Crypt--an area under the Rotunda. In 1996, a new campaign was launched to raise money to return the statue to the Rotunda, suggesting how the matter of making women and their historic struggle for suffrage visible continues into the present.

Most of the images are reproduced from large-format, black-and-white copy negatives. A few images were scanned from original photographic prints. The majority of the original images are photographic prints, but the featured items also include photomechanically reproduced drawings and graphic designs. For example, among the images is the colorful cover of a program for the 1913 women's suffrage procession in Washington, D.C.

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am Aug-26-97