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The Rise of Propaganda, 1890s

In the 1890s, suffragists started producing colorful visual propaganda to win over more Americans to support their cause

Henrietta Briggs-Wall, American Woman and Her Political Peers, pastel, 1893 Reproduction, courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society

Suffragists presented their first piece of visual propaganda at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Unlike portraits and cartoons, visual propaganda pointedly conveys complex arguments to viewers. Henrietta Briggs-Wall, a Midwestern suffragist, designed a 4- by 6-foot picture and commissioned artist W. A. Ford to execute it. The pastel picture, titled American Woman and Her Political Peers, argues for the vote for white women.

This image might seem confusing because it seems to consist of unrelated people. That was the point: it represented groups of Americans who could not vote. Briggs-Wall and many of her fellow suffragists believed that white women were superior to the men who lacked voting rights, whom they depicted as nonwhite, foreign, intellectually deficient, or even criminal.

American Woman and Her Political Peers attracted significant attention, so suffragists designed more such images. In the 1890s, the National American Woman Suffrage Association established press and publicity committees and a publishing company. Their pictures most often emphasized that white female voters should extend their moral, womanly expertise into politics.