This collection offers early 20th-century suffrage banners and associated artwork. There is a short (400 word) introduction to the collection while the collection proper is accessed via the AHDS search engine. Users must register and create a password to use the site, but this is free. The search allows users to select thumbnail images of the materials. These can then be enlarged and viewed alongside their catalog record. There is also an advanced search function and a help page to assist in searching. A selection function called “lightbox” may be used to collect and compare images from various searches.
The items in the collection were mostly designed and created by two artist-based suffrage organizations in Britain: the Artist’s Suffrage League and the Suffrage Atelier, both connected to women’s suffrage organizations in that country. The Artists Suffrage League, formed in 1907, designed banners for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and produced postcards and illustrated pamphlets to facilitate its campaign. While the Artist’s Suffrage League was open to professional artists, the Atelier (founded in 1909) encouraged non-professionals to submit work. The Atelier was most closely associated with the Women’s Freedom League and the Women’s Social and Political Union.
The content of this site is indicative of a shift in strategy in the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in the early 20th century. While still focused on influencing parliamentary opinion, the movement began to pay greater attention to methods designed to alert and shape public opinion. The banners and associated artwork produced by these two organizations were intended to accomplish this purpose. Banners were particularly suited to accomplishing impressive spectacles in the mass demonstrations organized in this period. Suffrage banners were decorated with slogans; with allusions to famous women, such as Joan of Arc; or with references to women’s roles in the professions.
A key disadvantage to the site is that there is no browse function or other method of presenting material without using a search term. This requires students to know what search terms will be productive, such as “Mary Lowndes,” who headed the Artists’ Suffrage League. Given the very limited information in the introduction, this can be frustrating without a detailed knowledge of the movements or events of the time.
This is a valuable collection of the iconography of the women’s suffrage movement. It provides information on the manner in which these symbols were employed politically on a variety of fronts. This is true for the banners and pamphlets, but also in the propagandistic use of other artistic productions such as postcards.
Students might make use of the collection in several ways: by examining the choice of heroic figures in the iconography; by examining the ways in which professional women were represented; or by analyzing the use of political theater in the photographs of the banners being employed in demonstrations. The preservation of the original banners allows a study of the distinct colors associated with the different women’s suffrage organizations, which are not identifiable in the original photographs. The lightbox function, which allows users to select images into a personal collection, is a useful means of comparing items from distinct searches.
Teachers and students using this site will find Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-14,1 helpful, especially given the need to use appropriate search terms to access the material efficiently.
1 Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-14 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).