The Suffrage Cartoons of Blanche Ames
Needham Public Library Exhibit
The League of Women Voters of Needham created the exhibit for the library’s display case on the main floor. The exhibit was to be shown during the month of March, 2020. In mid-March the library was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remains closed. So, we have moved the exhibit to our website. We hope you will visit the live exhibit when the library reopens.
The New Cradle
This cartoon shows Ames’ hope for women to be included in democracy, and that liberty for all, including women, will start at Faneuil Hall, in her state’s capital, Boston. “Liberty,” is a woman holding a baby boy and a girl. The man is enlarging the “Cradle of Liberty,” Boston’s Faneuil Hall, using the “Suffrage Amendment,” thus making the cradle large enough to fit the boy and the girl.
Selected for a state suffrage poster and published in the Boston Transcript, Boston American Suffrage Supplement, April 17, 1915. This version was copied from microfilm at Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA.
Woman Suffrage Flowers / The Map Blossoms
The states represented by flowers have granted suffrage to women in mid-1915, prior to the Massachusetts suffrage amendment referendum November 2, 1915. Uncle Sam is pruning away a caterpillar, symbolizing the anti-suffrage prejudice, which is working to defeat the suffrage ballots in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The tree is planted in the pot of “Equality,” its roots resting in the soil of “Liberty.” Using the tools at the bottom of the tree – “Justice,” “Truth,” “Logic” and “Education,” Uncle Sam will help to make these four states blossom into full suffrage flowers. Titled “The Map Blossoms” when published.
Published in the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, May 22, 1915. Location of original: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA.
Meanwhile They Drown
The cartoon above shows a well-dressed man and a well-dressed woman representing anti-suffrage staying clear of the women in the water below labeled “White Slavery,” etc. “Votes for Women,” the life preserver, would save us from these social ills, but the man and the women on the dock refuse to throw it because of their claim that not all women want or need the vote.
This cartoon enraged former President Willam Howard Taft, who wrote an editorial criticizing it in the Saturday Evening Post (Sep 1915).
Our Answer to Mr. Taft
Ames swiftly responded to Taft’s critique and published the cartoon on the right in the right. President Taft himself is now sitting on the dock with his foot on the “Votes for Women” life preserver. Several progressive social changes such as “Mothers Pensions,” etc. have been saved by “Votes for Women” in the states where women have the vote. Meanwhile, the rest drown.
Published in the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, June 5, 1915 and September 18, 1915. Location of originals: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
On which pedestal will Massachusetts men place women on November 2, 1915, when the woman suffrage vote is taken? With suffrage, devoted women will stand solidly on stable ground. They will be fulfilled by access to justice and be able to use their talents to contribute to the common good. Without the vote, women will be seated on precariously balanced ground, propped up by false chivalry and demonstrating shallow traits, such as ignorance, irresponsibility and idleness. Ames’ portrayal of the anti-suffragist in this and other cartoons is of a frivolously dressed, self-centered society woman more interested in pets than children. By contrast the pro-suffrage woman is a devoted mother on a sturdy foundation of religion, education, love and more.
Published in the Boston Transcript, September 1915. Location of original: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Anti-Allies and the Dog
The Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts was a strong and persistent foe to woman suffrage in the state. This cartoon shows the “Anti” woman, in the light of day, pulling back the horse trying to move toward woman suffrage and progress. But in the shadows are other forces allied with the women antis: “Bo$$,” “Vicious Interests,” “Liquor Interests,” and a dog representing Representative Dennis F. Reardon of Boston, an anti-suffrage politician who founded a Voters Anti-Suffrage League. In this cartoon, Ames is exposing the unsavory allies of the woman anti-suffragists.
Published in the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, October 2, 1915. Location of original: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Double the Power of the Home
If women get the vote, all of society will benefit from the nurturing, hardworking devotion that women contribute to their families and homes. This illustration was a response to anti-suffrage cartoons depicting women abandoning their homes, husbands and children once they got the vote. The woman, the children, the tidy house, the girl with the doll, and the boy with the book all reinforce that gender roles will continue when women are able to vote. The title suggests that women will simply vote as their husbands would. This cartoon appeared just prior to the November 2 election, when men voters would determine whether women in Massachusetts would have the right to vote, which may explain its more conservative message.
Published in the Boston Transcript, September 1915 and the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, October 23, 1915. Location of original: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
The Next Rung
Using the classic metaphor of darkness and light, the struggling woman has made much progress out of darkness, but just as she is about to reach the next rung: “Votes for Women,” she is halted by two demons: “Injustice” and “Prejudice.” Once women achieve the vote, they can continue toward “True Democracy” and “Progress.” This cartoon was published on November 20, 1915, after the failed Massachusetts referendum on November 2. Despite the failure of the referendum, the woman will keep trying to reach the ultimate goal, “Progress.”
Published in The Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, November 20, 1915. Location of original: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Who Was Blanche Ames?
Blanche Ames (1878-1969) came from a long line of strong women and powerful men. Her grandmother, Sarah Hildreth Butler, was a popular Shakespearean actress. Her grandfather? Civil War General Benjamin Franklin Butler. Adelbert Ames, her father, was also a Union General and, later, a Reconstruction governor. But it was her mother, Blanche Butler Ames, who posed the question that would serve as the touchstone for young Blanche’s life: Will women ever have the same rights as men? For Blanche Ames, the only possible answer was yes.
Beginning with a speech she delivered to President McKinley as president of her class at Smith College (class of 1899), Blanche Ames became a leader of the woman suffrage movement in Massachusetts. In 1915, while she was Art Editor of the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, she used her artistic talents to create a series of eight pro-suffrage political cartoons that both inspired and enraged.
Blanche would turn her attention to reproductive rights, becoming the first president of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916.
Blanche Ames took on society’s elite, the Catholic Church, and even her in-laws while advocating for women’s rights. Fortunately, she chose a partner, husband Oakes Ames, who was not related, though they shared the same last name before marriage. Oakes Ames was equally dedicated to women’s rights. Together, the couple wrote, drew, rallied, and organized, all while raising four children at their home called Borderland, now a Massachusetts state park in North Easton, Massachusetts.
What Was Happening When These Cartoons Were Published in 1915?
The fight for Woman’s Suffrage in the United States was a long battle and by 1915 had already lasted over 67 years.
There were two strategies for gaining women the right to vote:
- Secure the vote for women state-by-state. By 1915, only 12 states had granted women full voting rights.
- Pass an amendment to the US Constitution, which would grant all women citizens in the United States the right to vote.
In 1915, using the long-established state-by-state strategy, the plan was to gain the right to vote for women in four more states. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York were each holding referendums on woman’s suffrage.
The Blanche Ames cartoons were part of a campaign to convince men to vote YES in these states.
On November 2, 1915, male voters in Massachusetts were asked to vote on an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that would strike the word “male” from the article that gave men the right to vote.
It was during this period in 1915 that Ames published her eight suffrage cartoons, while serving as Art Director for the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News.
In May, 6 months prior to the election, Ames illustrated the plan to expand woman’s suffrage to four states in the east, including Massachusetts, in “The Map Blossoms,” also titled “Woman Suffrage Flowers.” (right)
The November 2, 1915 Massachusetts Suffrage Referendum
Alas, on November 2, 35.5% men voted YES and 64.5% voted NO in the Massachusetts referendum. Similar measures in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were defeated as well. Ames’ last cartoon, “The Next Rung” was published after the defeat in Massachusetts.
The Road to the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution
- May 21, 1919, US House of Representatives passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
- June 4, 1919, US Senate did the same. Next, 36 state legislatures were required to pass the amendment.
- June 25, 1919, Massachusetts was the 8th state to ratify.
- August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state.
- August 26, 1920, US Secretary of State signed off on the 19th Amendment!
The 19th Amendment reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
The following November 1920, 8 million women voted in the Presidential Election.
Borderland Documentary. https://www.borderlandthedocumentary.com/about-the-film.html (accessed Feb 11, 2020).
Clark, Anne Biller. My Dear Mrs. Ames: A Study of the Life of Suffragist Cartoonist and Birth Control Reformer Blanche Ames Ames, 1878-1969. University of Massachusetts Amherst, ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst, 1996. https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2229&context=dissertations_1 (accessed Feb 11, 2020).
Joyce, Caitlyn. Blanche Ames, A Pioneer in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. National History Day Website. http://30471410.weebly.com/leadership-through-political-cartoons.html (accessed Feb 11, 2020).
Kenneally, James. Blanche Ames and Woman Suffrage. Borderland State Park pamphlet, 1993.
Lamb, Chris. Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons. Columbia University Press, 2004.
Massachusetts Historical Society. Collection Online. “Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Victory Parade: Instructions for Marchers.” https://www.masshist.org/database/1892 (accessed Feb 11, 2020).
National Park Service. “Massachusetts and the 19th Amendment.” https://www.nps.gov/articles/massachusetts-and-the-19th-amendment.htm (accessed Feb 11, 2020).
Sheppard, Alice. Cartooning for Suffrage. University of New Mexico Press, 1994.
Ware, Susan Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2019.
Prepared by the League of Women Voters of Needham. Commentaries and summaries prepared by Karen Price and Gail Davis. Thanks to: Anne Borg, Cathy Freedberg, Stacie Shapiro, Gay Ellen Dennett and the Needham Free Public Library, Gloria Greis and the Needham History Center and Museum, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
Take A Closer Look at the Cartoons
Click on the first cartoon, then view each one close up as a slide show.