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Portraits & Caricatures

Mid-nineteenth century cartoons mocked suffragists as manly. Activists borrowed strategies from antislavery activists and distributed portraits to challenge these caricatures.

In the 1840s, women’s rights activists signed petitions, attended the Seneca Falls Convention, and organized the first national meeting for the cause in Worcester, Massachusetts. Artists and publishers responded to their efforts by printing mocking political cartoons. New technology made pictures cheap and easy to reproduce in illustrated newspapers and as prints.

Reformers had little money or power to respond on a large scale. However, they distributed their portraits to demonstrate that they looked nothing like the people in the cartoons. Antislavery leaders including Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth pioneered this strategy. Photographs and engravings of suffragists often featured them in conventional dress, posed to demonstrate their virtue and piety. Suffragists used these images to highlight their most important leaders and refine their public image.

Leopold Grozelier, Representative Women, lithograph, ca. 1857, Blackwell Family Papers,Schlesinger Library