When Postcards Were a Primary Mode of Persuasion

"The Male Madonna and the Feminine Uncle Sam" discusses the visual arguments encapsulated in the icons and ideographs of 1909 anti-woman suffrage postcards, devoting particular attention to graphic depictions of the "coarsening effect" the vote would allegedly have on women, as well as the uniquely visual portrayal of concerns that woman suffrage would lead to a feminization of men and the nation. Though the article examines a twelve-card set of cartoon postcards satirizing woman suffrage, special significance is bestowed upon two of the postcards—Suffragette Madonna and Uncle Sam, Suffragee. The set of postcards as a whole is notable for transcending the verbal discourse surrounding suffrage by depicting the effect expansion of the vote would have on men's location in the public and domestic spheres of life. However, as the article argues, the Suffragette Madonna and Uncle Sam, Suffragee postcards provide additional insight into how the necessarily visual icons of the Madonna and Uncle Sam were employed to reinforce the ideographs governing what it looks like to be a man or a woman.

I found the article's analysis of the Madonna icon to be especially interesting. The author posits that rather than possessing multiple connotations across multiple images or shifting meaning according to context, the Madonna's essence remains stable, with multiple connotations residing within the Suffragette Madonna postcard depending upon whether the viewer is Catholic. Given the gender-bending nature of the 1909 anti-woman suffrage postcards, I wonder whether modern feminist forces could successfully reappropriate these images to endorse our evolving conceptions of masculinity and femininity, or whether the source material could never entirely be divorced from its intent.

While our current ideographs of man and woman may be more loosely defined than in the past, we nonetheless make certain assumptions about sexuality based upon how an individual presents their gender, attesting to the continued existence of widely recognized societal norms. Much like the case of the anti-woman suffrage postcards, these norms perhaps become most apparent when they are visually transgressed.

Image Source: Anti-Woman Suffrage Postcard Project