Political cartoons about women’s suffrage, now on exhibit in Logan, still resonate

(Courtesy of National Woman's Party) Nina Allender drew political cartoons for The Suffragist in the early 20th Century during the woman suffrage movement.

The line of protesting women is holding banners that quote the president’s praise for democracy and liberty. One sign retorts: “How long must women wait for freedom?”

Another woman carries a rat trap — ready for the conditions ahead as the line moves forward into jail.

The 1917 cartoon by artist Nina Allender shows the hallmarks of her work: She documented women standing up for their beliefs, highlighted the struggles they faced and regularly confronted President Woodrow Wilson with his own words, arguing it was hypocritical for him to push for democracy around the world when American women didn’t have the right to vote.

For decades, Allender’s cartoons “were tucked away in a closet” in the office of the National Woman’s Party until they were rediscovered in 2001. Now, her illustrations have been gathered into a traveling exhibit, which is on display at Utah State’s Museum of Anthropology in Logan through Aug. 31.

Allender created her political cartoons a century ago during the women’s suffrage movement, but many of the issues she was commenting on still resonate in 2019, said Candi Carter Olson, associate professor of media and society at USU.

“She was interested in women’s rights and children’s rights and the rights of these poor women,” Carter Olson said. “When we think about what are problems today, still there are women in poverty, women trying to make a living while having kids and who want their kids to have the best life possible.”

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, and the 150th anniversary of Utah becoming the first state where a woman cast a ballot. With these upcoming milestones, there’s a lot to learn from women like Allender and the exhibit, "A Woman Speaking to Women: The Political Art of Nina Allender," said Molly Cannon, executive director of the Museum of Anthropology.

“It lets us talk about these issues of representation but also these issues of poverty, of work conditions, of equal pay," Cannon said. "All of these things that Utah women are challenged by and are working to overcome.”

“A Woman Speaking to Women: The Political Art of Nina Allender”

The exhibit of political cartoons by Nina Allender is free and open to the public through Aug. 31.

When • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and on the first Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Guided tours are held at 2 p.m. each Tuesday.

Where • Utah State University’s Museum of Anthropology, Old Main 225, Logan

‘Nothing timid about that woman’

Allender’s illustrations ran in The Suffragist, a weekly news tabloid published by the National Woman’s Party, published between 1913 and 1920. Allender, one of the few women creating political cartoons at the time, tried to address issues while also putting a contemporary brand on the movement, Cannon said.

Her cartoons portrayed what was referred to as the “Allender girl.” Instead of showing suffragists as old or unattractive, as some outlets did, Allender wanted to display “a very youthful, energized, determined, forthright perspective, Cannon said.

In one cartoon on display at the museum, a woman confronts a soldier and Uncle Sam.

“There’s nothing timid about that woman,” Cannon said. “She’s got her hand on her hip and her protest sign, and she’s got her message and she wants them to hear it."

Allender, who lived from 1872 to 1957, was born in Kansas and studied art at Corcoran School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was working at the Treasury Department “to support herself after her husband’s desertion” when she met Alice Paul, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, according to the Library of Congress.

Paul encouraged Allender to submit her first cartoon to The Suffragist. Allender was uneasy at first "because she saw herself as a painter and not a cartoonist," according to the Library of Congress.

In her cartooning work, the disparity between Wilson’s advocacy for democracy in other countries while American women could not vote “comes up time and time again. Democracy begins at home,” Cannon said.

When the suffragists were arrested while picketing, Allender drew the conditions they faced in jail. Some of her early drawings used militant imagery and references to the American Revolution.

“She’s equating women’s suffrage with that fight. It’s just as important and needs just as much effort and determination to win,” Cannon said.

Allender also used humor and wit to convey her points. In one cartoon, she used a twist on the “Little Miss Muffet” nursery rhyme to symbolize that women living in states that had already passed women’s suffrage would not be frightened by those who refused to consider any amendments. Labeling the dangling spider as the “judiciary committee,” Allender wrote:

“Little Miss Moffit

Sat on a tuffit,

Eating her curds and whey;

There came a great spider

And sat down beside her,



(Courtesy of National Woman's Party) Nina Allender used humor in her cartoons. In this 1916 drawing, she took a twist on the nursery rhyme "Little Miss Moffit."

More work ahead

The 19th Amendment was the suffragists’ signature accomplishment, but they knew there’d be more work to do, Cannon said. They focused on the work of motherhood, labor conditions, poverty and other issues related to quality of life, she said.

“These women were so organized,” Cannon said.

The suffragists used media, symbolism, clothing in gold, white and purple, music and speeches, among other tactics, to directly engage government officials, said Cathy Ferrand Bullock, professor and interim department head of journalism and communication at USU.

In June, Bullock and Carter Olson focused on these media and public relations strategies used to support and work against women’s suffrage at the Bennions’ Teachers Workshop at USU. For example, opponents used suffragette as a pejorative term, so U.S. women used the word suffragist to describe themselves, Bullock said.

The goal was for teachers to learn how to teach these topics to students during the anniversaries next year, Bullock said.

Many of the strategies the suffragists used are still around today, Bullock said.

“People are still using poetry and music and speeches and more traditional media and social media to try to get points across,” she said.

Voting rights issues in present day are “part of a very long history,” Bullock said, stretching back to the famous women’s rights convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.

The upcoming anniversaries are a good time to revisit that past, Cannon said, and look at what can still be done. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal rights regardless of sex, is something that the suffragists worked on, but in 2019, has still never been ratified by all the states, she said.

“Utah is one of those states where that has not been ratified, so I do think there is certainly hope that this anniversary can shed awareness,” Cannon said.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.

(Becky Jacobs | The Salt Lake Tribune) Molly Cannon speaks July 12 at Utah State's Museum of Anthropology about what can be learned from an exhibit of Nina Allender's cartoons.