The Art of Suffrage: Women Cartoonists

Bridwell Art Library employee Trish Blair introduces two female cartoonists for suffrage, and shares how their vision helped most women gain the right to vote.

For women coming of age at the turn of the 20th century there were not many roles outside the home for them to aspire to have. ​But War and other factors led to a surge in women participating in life outside the home; between 1880 and 1910, the number of women employed in the United States increased from 2.6 million to 7.8 million. Yet still most women could not vote in elections. Women began to rise up, and participate in organized protests​, becoming known as ​​suffragists. Merriam-Webster defines suffragist as “a person who advocates suffrage ​(the right to vote).” Suffragists believed in peaceful, constitutional campaign methods; after they failed to make significant progress, a new generation of activists emerged. These women became known as the suffragettes, and they were willing to take direct, militant action for the cause.

One way that women did make a mark in that time-period was in art. Two women made a name for themselves as cartoonists for suffrage, Nina Allender (1872?-1957) and Annie “Lou” Rogers (1879-1952). Women at this time did not have many role models as women had not yet become cartoonists, publicists, or public figures. These women were in a new generation, a transitional generation who with their middle-class, white, protestant upbringing were poised to change their circumstances and the country at large.

Photograph of Lou Rodgers. ca. 1910. Photographer unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

Annie “Lou” Rogers, one of the most prolific suffrage artists, was from a long-established American family in Maine. Her love of drawing took her to the Massachusetts Normal Art School, where she left after failing her first year exams. She “hated the plinths and the dead white casts and the stiff designs for wallpaper.” Rogers prided herself as a self-taught artist.  In 1908 when publications rejected her, she began using the pseudonym Lou Rogers.  Soon she became one of the country’s leading cartoonists with her work appearing in The Judge, Ladies Home Journal, and the New York Tribune.  She also published books, and hosted a radio show in the 1930’s. And little did she know that working at The Judge would change how the world sees women, albeit many years later. While at The Judge, Rogers worked alongside Harry George Peter, who would occasionally create pieces when Rogers was overbooked. Peter was the original artist behind William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman. Both Marston and Peter were inspired by the suffrage movement in the creation of the character, and while it cannot be determined whether Peter was influenced directly by Rogers work, it still showed the hallmarks of suffrage artwork.

Cartoon by Nina Allender. Published in The Suffragist. June 6, 1917.

Nina Allender was born in Kansas after her family moved westward from Pennsylvania in the early years of western settlement. Years later, her family would return east to Washington DC. Allender attended the Corcoran School of Art, and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, one of the first art schools to provide professional opportunities for women. She joined the suffrage movement in 1913 when she met Alice Paul. She produced cartoons that showed a new spirit and interpretation of suffrage.  She began working at The Suffragist, a publication of the National Women’s Party. She worked to change the image of suffragettes to stylish young women patiently waiting for their rights—an opposite portrayal by anti-suffrage cartoons that caricatured activists as frumpy and nagging. The Allender Girl was in stark contrast to other depictions of women at that time such as the Gibson Girl, the most popular women’s image of the time by cartoonist Charles Dana Gibson. As a more popular version of the New Woman (i.e. the Suffragette), the Gibson Girl both undermined and sanctioned women’s desires for progressive sociopolitical change.

Informal portrait, Nina E. Allender, full-length, seated at desk, facing left with head turned toward camera, holding a cartoon sketch in her lap. Photograph by Harris & Ewing. Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Digital ID mnwp.274001.



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