Comics For Suffrage: Women Cartoonists On Exhibit At Billy Ireland Museum

Jan 10, 2020

The 19th Amendment was ratified 100 years ago, granting women the right to vote in the U.S. Along with marches, op-eds and organizing, the women who fought for suffrage had another tool in their belt: a pen.

Now those works are on display at Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum as part of a new exhibit on women in comics.

Caitlin McGurk, curator at the Billy Ireland museum, says cartoonists like Nina Allender drew political cartoons in support of the suffrage movement.

"She started to draw these women as everywomen, as people who were far more relatable, people who a young woman could see and want to get involved in this kind of movement," McGurk says. "And from her work spun off a million other cartoonists."

McGurk co-created "Ladies First," a celebration of the innovation of women cartoonists and comic artists over the last century. She says Allender's work amounted to a rebranding, as most of the cartoonists at the time were men not in favor of the movement.

"Therefore the images were not particularly flattering," she says. "Suffragettes were specifically depicted to look mannish and angry and brutal and drawn in a way so that a woman who was considering getting involved in the movement would think, 'Absolutely not. That is not me.'"

And cartoons, McGurk says, were a particularly powerful at a time when many couldn't read, or didn't speak English. 

"You could get so much from art itself. We're so inundated with visual imagery now, be it from TikTok or Facebook or movies or Instagram, but back in the day, at the turn of the century, visual images were where people got their understanding of the world," she says.

"Ladies First" is up at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum through May 3, 2020.