September 2015 Articles

Final Word: The Last Laugh

Final-Word_Suffergets-CoverBy Nancy Brokaw

The little girls are endearingly plump and prettily pinafored. But surface charm aside, the pamphlet in which they appear—Ten Little Suffergets—was designed to lampoon the women behind the suffrage movement.

Two of the girls depicted carry signs supporting Votes for Women and Equal Rights. That their companions agitate for other, childish causes—Cake Every Day, Down with Teaching, Every Day a Holiday—is clearly intended to expose just how silly their demands are. And as the group loses a member at the turn of each page, the childishness of their cause is further revealed. One by one, the girls find their resolve overpowered by cakes, a kiss from a little boy, and the Sandman.
Launched at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the campaign for women’s right to vote was gaining momentum in the 1910s, when Ten Little Suffergets was published. At the time, suffragists across the nation were lobbying elected officials while others adopted more militant tactics such as picketing and hunger strikes. Meanwhile, at Bryn Mawr College, President M. Carey Thomas presided over a campus rife with suffragist sentiment.

But opposition was strong and emerged even at Bryn Mawr’s famously pro-suffrage campus. For one, Dorothy Godfrey Wayman, Class of 1914, contributed to a compilation of anti-suffrage essays published in 1916: “It is pitiful to think of the energy and ability which today is diverted from channels of human helpfulness to this sensational struggle for a mistaken cause,” she wrote in Anti-Suffrage Essays by Massachusetts Women. “It is not to be thought of that we can permit woman’s energy to be permanently dissipated in political warfare or handicapped by party vicissitudes.”

In August 1920, the anti-suffrage cause went down in defeat as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, ensuring that, henceforth, “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.”

An artifact of one of history’s justifiably lost causes, Ten Little Suffergets is a rarity today—Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections holds one of only three known copies—leaving those 10 little suffergets with the last laugh.