Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cat Imagery in the Suffrage Movement

Cats were a common symbol in suffragette imagery.  Cats represented the domestic sphere, and anti-suffrage postcards often used them to reference female activists.  The intent was to portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement.

Mocking anti-suffrage postcard

Reads:  "We don't care if we never have a vote."
Photo from the Palczewski Suffrage Postcard Archive

Mocking anti-suffrage postcard
Photo from the Palczewski Suffrage Postcard Archive

Another common theme in anti-suffrage cartoons and postcards was the bumbling, emasculated father cruelly left behind to cover his wife's shirked duties as she so ungracefully abandons the home for the political sphere.  Oftentimes, cats were portrayed in these scenes as symbols of a threatened traditional home in need of woman's care and attention.

Public sentiment warmed to the suffragettes as police brutality began to push women into a more favorable, if victimized, light.  As suffragettes increasingly found themselves jailed, many resisted unfair or inhumane imprisonment with hunger strikes.  In response, jailers would often force-feed female prisoners with steel devices to pry open their mouths and long hoses inserted into their noses and down their throats.  This caused severe damage to the women's faces, mouths, lungs, and stomachs, sometimes causing illness and death.  The British government responded by enacting the Prisoner's Act of 1913 which temporarily freed prisoners to recuperate (or die) at home, at which time they could be rearrested.  The intention was to free the government from responsibility of injury and death from force feeding prisoners.  This act became popularly known as the "Cat and Mouse Act," as the government was seen as toying with their female prey as a cat would a mouse.  Suddenly, the cat takes on a decidedly more masculine, "tom cat" persona.  The cat now represented the violent realities of women's struggle for political rights in the male public sphere.

Sympathetic suffrage  postcard referencing the  Prisoner's Act of 1913
Photo from Collectors Weekly

1 comment:

  1. Darn. I wish I had a photo of my Grandma's childhood pet, a Boston Terrier, holding a newspaper with the headline in 1920 that women now had the right to vote. My grandma was ten years old that summer. The dog was ... very spoiled.