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The Legacy of Suffrage

Historical pictures represented ideas about gender, race, politics, and power. They laid the foundations for modern visual debates that persist today

Congresswomen dressed in white in 2020
Photograph of the State of the Union Address, February 4, 2020. Image courtesy of Alex Edelman and Getty Images

Suffragists worked to change popular representations of political power. Yet even today, women’s rights activists continue to encounter the idea that women seeking change are masculine or shrill. Historical pictures conveyed ideas about gender, race, politics, and power. They laid the foundations for modern visual debates that persist.

The suffragists most often remembered are the ones who fashioned their own images through the movement’s visual campaigns. From Sojourner Truth to Susan B. Anthony and the History of Woman Suffrage, portraits identified the founding mothers of the movement. Alice Paul and her photographs of suffrage spectacles likewise remain iconic. Suffragists designed campaigns to sell their cause to the public, not tell a complete story. They created new visions of citizenship—some better, some worse—that fueled their movement and continue to shape our understanding of it.