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Portrayal of The Suffrage Movement in Two Political Cartoon

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In most cases, a cartoon speaks louder than a text, so that is why cartoons are very important and cartoons are highly valuable sources of history because it puts light on events that has taken place in the past. The most important part of a cartoon is that without talking about the event, the cartoon itself displays ideas together that makes it so simple/easy to understand for people that cannot read or write, as in the history the education rate was not so good, cartoons should have been very useful. These two cartoons “Sermons in Stones” and “Asquith’s Anti-Suffragette Bath Salt” so simply reveals so much that has happened during the Suffrage Movement in just two cartoons, if this was a written text, it might have filled so many books.

The Punch magazine was a magazine of humor and satire, that worked between 1841-2002. A British organization, which was well known globally for its intelligence and irreverence and for bringing truth in pictures was the main reason that helped it to be recognized internationally. When it launched the term ‘cartoon’, it turned to be the most famous term of the period. Its political & social cartoons affected the future direction of governments and society, displaying life with great attention paid to details between the 19th and 20th centuries. These cartoons played a massive role in process of election and it also influenced society in many ways.

The first cartoon “Sermons in Stones” John Bull (to the non-militant suffragist), “I could listen more attentively, madam, to your pleas, were it not for these concrete arguments which I find rather distractive.” To begin with, this cartoon displays the roles and tactics of each suffrage group, the suffragists promoted and held their meetings with important people, whereas the suffragettes violently breaking the windows, which is clearly suggested by cartoon disturbing the peaceful and persuasive conversation of the other group. It also suggests that government were determined to listen to sensible women, obviously the suffragists (non-militant), however the destructions of Suffragettes did not let them make a decision on the question of women”.

Although, their aims overall aim was exactly the same (vote for women), their immediate aims were different, the suffragist aimed to gain the vote in long term while being sensible, however the Suffragettes aimed for a quick gain, e.g. ”we want the vote tomorrow.” The tactics used by the Suffragists included: campaigns, persuading and convincing people to support them financially or physically or show sympathy. They were holding meetings to encourage and find more companions, lobbying, and writing letters to powerful politicians, the cartoon also indicates. Their overall tactic places like Glasgow, Bristol, Norwich, and Dublin were mainly used by both the Suffragist and the suffragette, to raise funds, to disseminate propaganda, to promote the profile of their campaigns and to recruit more new members, their aim was to gain the vote, in order to have the vote, they needed a considerable number of people wanting the same.

Despite their big conferences, they also were holding meetings in small groups in their own homes, churches, community halls and/or factory canteens. We can see this in the cartoon, where John bull, an imagery man, who is a personification of England and he is displayed in cartoons, he is meeting the sensible woman in his office or study; the books on the table, the cabinets and the one to one meeting table are supporting this view , this supports that the aims of the Suffrage women (non-militant, suffragist) were to convince important politicians (men), to get to the main people, including non-politicians like writers and/or printers, whom could help them write and print as much as they can for their campaigns until their message is heard by the target audience. However, she is being distracted by the militancy of Suffragettes. Suffragette’s destructions, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were arrested because they had heckled Winston Churchill aggressively in Manchester at a liberal party meeting, so they were imprisoned for a short time, they purposely did that to attract publicity and they succeeded as they were the topic of media at the time. The cartoon brings this in picture by having breaks/stones being thrown through the windows and the windows-banging women are disturbing and the suffrage group under the leadership of Christabel, Christabel had created a group with militant nature that she could no longer control.

Moreover, the following were include in tactics by Christabel Pankhurst after 1909: pouring acid on golf greens, attacking the homes of prominent politicians and other important political buildings, and sitting lights to the content of pillar boxes, they were deliberately getting themselves arrested to get attention. The most important of all, the thing that is shown in the cartoon is that in 1912 the NUWSS attacked London, they smashed/banged the windows of all the shops, the Foreign Office, the Home Office, and many important government buildings. Some important painting galleries and some of the houses of famous people were demolished by the suffragettes because they thought that it was the only language that men understood. Their aim was to gain the vote for women forcingly and by being violent; they believed being soft will win them nothing.

Next, this cartoon tells that about the non-militant suffragist who is sitting calmly in her seat, her hands and gestures conveys that she is having a very important and affective conversation with John Bull, however we see stones being thrown through the window, which distracts the conversation and we automatically think that those breaks are being thrown by the angry suffragette ladies (illegal tactics). According to Britain 1890-1939, the suffragette ladies were the aggressive ones, so this cartoon is very useful in terms of aim and tactics because it encourages other ladies to calm down and work together, it also motivates the main men (politicians) to do something to stop those ladies from being violent and the cartoons were gaining popularity for the Suffrage Movement.

Additionally, the handbag, gloves, shoes, and the fur coat of the non-militant suffragist lady conveys that she is from upper-class, a rich, and educated woman. In the 20th century, wearing fur and white gloves were the signs of educated and rich upper-class women, white gloves are only being worn by the Queen now. There were more restrictions on the rich women that on working-class women, the upper-class women were not enfranchised, working class women at least could make their living, whilst upper-class women were not allowed to make their own money because they could live on their husband’s money and they were the ideal wives. They also started campaigning for their rights by either supporting the suffrage groups with supplies or joining them by themselves and participating in every activity and meeting.

The secon cartoon “Asquith’s Anti-Suffragette Bath Slat’ – “Tell the ladies I can’t see them just now.” This political cartoon conveys the difficulties that the suffrage movement has faced, the attitude of political parties towards the movement, Herbert Asquith, who was extremely against the women suffrage and it also shows that vote for women was not more important to Asquith than having a bath. Asquith is shown as the block to women’s enfranchisement.

In the above political cartoon, we are mainly presented with the attitude of the Liberal Party towards the women’s enfranchisement. Liberals, could give the vote to women after their victory in 1906, but the bill of women’s enfranchisement was refused repeatedly in 1907 and 1908 by Asquith’s oppositions. Although, the question of women was the most important issue to Liberals and they were assumed to give women the vote speedily because the majority of Liberals were feminist and worked to support women, it naturally was the most progressive party, the second most important person to the Prime minister, Herbert Asquith the chancellor of exchanged with a very powerful cabinet-level, who became the Prime Minister after the prime minister Campbell Bannerman resignation from his office was against it, that is why he was called “The prime minister without a party sometimes”. Asquith was not so secure, he was getting things done that looked good to him and his fellows, not to good the country. The Irish nationalist, also believed that men came first, if working-class men didn’t have the vote yet, women weren’t so important too and Asquith relied on the Irish nationalist. In 1910, the property-owning women bill was introduced, but it also failed because the Liberal Party had so many other more important issues (WW1) than vote for women. Asquith preferred to support the male suffrage, but disagreed to the women in 1911, which brought a lot of more reasons to women to fight for because male with no property could vote after the 1913 introduction of universal male suffrage-it was now not about the class or how educated or rich one was, it was more about the gender. After that women were largely supported by so many politicians and important people because the gender inequality was not acceptable to all men.

Furthermore, this political cartoon clearly says “Anti-Suffragette Salt of Asquith” which implies that Asquith was the major problem, who threw salt in the eyes of women repeatedly. Asquith, having a bath and telling the ladies that he is busy at the moment, implies that he did not take the Women’s Suffrage so seriously, he chose having a bath instead of discussion this issue to the ladies. According to history, he thought that women should not be trusted for vote, they must be leaded by men because they mentally and physically are weaker and should stay away from political issues. This cartoon indicates some sexual content as Asquith is having a bath and responds to women in a kind of comic way, like a joke or something, which think is linked to the sexually assaulted women under his leadership, when approximately 300 suffragettes got into a fight with the police in November 1910 while trying to storm the meeting room of the house of commons, when they were sexually and physically disrespected, in total 132 suffragettes’ women’s sworn statements were announced by the government, therefore that day was known as “Black Friday”. On the same black Friday, many arrests were made to scare women, so they will not come against the government to protest again, those arrests included Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Their aim was to gain attention of public and to make the leaders make a decision in favour of women. Which again we can see in the cartoon that they purposely want to get in trouble to get attention.

However, we can say that the government played the women repeatedly, it is displayed in the cartoon as Asquith is being rude to the women. After 1910 and 1911 bill the WSPU prevented all the militant-tasks just to show respect and that they did want the vote only, unfortunately the bill failed because it received so little support from the government, therefore WSPU increased their activities again. Shortly after the WSPU’s start to militant campaigns again, the government strongly banned its members to participate in Liberal Party gatherings unless they had signed the tickets, which again is supported by the cartoon that Asquith was being a playboy. The suffragettes in prisons were known as political prisoners and they were handled as normal criminals in 1908, that is when hunger strikes were used in prisons by the prisoners in protests, however government decided to force-feed them to keep them alive and avoid a martyr’s death. They were forcingly fed through their mouth, nostrils and sometimes through rectum and vagina. Again, women did this all to keep the issue of “vote for women” in media, which successfully turned many against the government.

On the other hand, as in the cartoon Asquith was being womaniser. One of the evidence of women were being played by the government is the Cat and Mouse Act. In 1913, the “Cat and Mouse Act” was passed by the government which is given the comic name because it actually was to play with women like a cat plays with a mouse before it fully eat or kill the mouse, The “Cat and Mouse Act” allowed the women, whose health was affected by the hunger strike to be legally released for a short period of time, until they had recovered and gained their strengths to be imprisoned again. In 1913 Annie Kenney was imprisoned again and that is when she went under the “Cat and Mouse” Act.

Although, the Conservative Party is being displayed like it had a negative attitude towards the women’s suffrage, with a few excluded things, the reality is not as easy as it looks, it is way more complicated, the attitude of conservatives on the suffrage was decidedly mixed feeling, in fact they were not all opposed it. While it is unquestionably true that most Tories were the diehard opposed to enfranchising women, the party contained many big, passionate and enthusiastic supporters, whom played a big role in the achievement of it. They were the first party to support women in many fields like, encouraging women for political work through the Primrose League. Furthermore, an outstanding number of both men and women from the Conservatives members actively participated in the suffrage movement. The Conservative party’s leaders, Disraeli and more have at least talked about limited female enfranchisement in favour of women, once or many times in important places, and at the very end, the enfranchisement was one of the works of the conservatives. In fact, conservatives had never had a problem with it because they believed if women have the vote, they are more likely to vote conservatives and it should be admitted that the vote was given to women under the conservative’s leadership. George Lansbury, a Liberal MP resigned his seat so that he could fight a by-election on the suffrage question. He failed in the by-election but didn’t stopped to help the Suffrage, he was imprisoned in 1913 after presenting his speech about his full support to the women in the campaign of the attacks of arson, at a WSPU gathering. The Labours were clearly the Anti-Suffrage because they progressed in the traditional and cultural way, so they were the once “where is my tea woman?” kind of men.

In addition, it seems like Asquith had faith in the idea of “different sphere”, however when the Liberal government realised that women would fail them in elections, women were powerful enough to fight against men in political fighting, he changed his mind after failing many times in elections because of the massive support of NUWSS to the Liberal opponents. The evidence of his change of mind is believed to be the meeting of Sylvia Pankhurst, who has hinted that he had changed his mind and he is about ‘ to agree to vote for women, but unfortunately, everything ended before it started because the WW1 broke out in 1914, so the vote for women was no longer the most essential issue, neither to the women, nor to the government. The stones thrown through the windows may also is to tell us how the war and crises affected the enfranchisement. The most important issue that was largely discussed was that “which party will the women vote for” and which political party will be fully vanished because of the large group of women coming to vote, “the Liberal or the Labour or even the Conservative?” The Liberal and Labour believed that such a large group of women will not fail them because they will not necessarily vote Conservative. However, conservatives were sure that it was beneficial for them to agree to the enfranchisement. The government replaced many those MPs who were opposed to the idea of enfranchisement of women in 1916, when David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as a PM. The duration of the war encouraged many like Asquith and gave them the opportunity to change their mind “without losing face”, again, as suggested by the cartoon, Asquith had never had an idea of what he was doing, he just liked to be in fight with ladies, just after he was no longer responsible, Asquith changed and explained to the House of Commons in 1917 the cause of him changing his mind, and that was the time when the “Act of Representation of people” finally allowed all women age 30 and all men age 21 to vote in 1918.

And lastly, I think historical cartoons are extremely useful to historians because they could also see the event in picture as well as the fact that are drawn to put light on one specific part of the event with loads of information and links to every small detail of the event. The usefulness of a political cartoon shows the attitude of the political parties or government towards the issue, it displays the influential fact and how it has affected the event. The aim and tactic, social cartoons reveal the positive and negative attitudes, their tactics are stated clear and their aim is their voice to be heard. I think the cartoons sums it all up in only one picture, whereas it takes books to explain the things drawn in a cartoon.

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Portrayal of the Suffrage Movement in Two Political Cartoon. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/portrayal-of-the-suffrage-movement-in-two-political-cartoon/
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