Marching to the Memorabilia of the Suffragette

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Shown here is a “Votes for Women” sash worn at pickets or demonstrations by women in the colors of the US women’s suffrage movement (purple, yellow and white). This sash sold for $2,375 in 2018.

In 1920 women were finally guaranteed the right to vote that Independence in 1776 overlooked. Today, we can follow that hard struggle through its memorabilia.

Aboard the Mayflower, one of the earliest colonizers of the Americas in November 1620, “…an association and agreement…as we should by common consent agree to make and choose…” was drawn up before stepping onto the shore of the New World. Known as the Mayflower Compact, it was the first document specifically intended to govern a new colony in the Americas. Historic as it was, the Compact was debated, drafted, and signed only by men.

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A locally based women’s suffrage banner carried in a picket or demonstration in the official colors of yellow, purple, and white auctioned for $2,820 in 2015.

And so began a long, difficult struggle to guarantee a woman’s right to vote. It would take the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing that right when it was finally certified on August 26, 1920, almost exactly 300 years since the signing of the Mayflower Compact. 

Well, that’s not quite true. Women were able to vote in certain circumstances in some colonies, mostly for local issues such as education. When the US Constitution went into effect in 1789, all states except New Jersey, no longer permitted women to vote (New Jersey rescinded the right in 1807). There were a few states where voting for women was guaranteed: Wyoming in 1869, Colorado in 1893, Utah and Idaho in 1896. That was more of a social exercise, though, as these far western states needed women to balance the number of men in these otherwise desolate rural areas. They thought perhaps voting would help.

By the time of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, women’s rights pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Susan B. Anthony began the long struggle to extend the right to vote to women across the country through legal challenges and demonstrations (what they would call pickets), including one in front of the White House in 1917. This 1917 picket was the first time such a demonstration was ever held there.

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Buttons and badges were a colorful and descriptive way to show support for “Votes for Women” such as this convention badge from Missouri, the 11th state that would adopt the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Because it was so specific to a state, the badge in such great condition sold for $7,500.

Naturally, it didn’t go well for the women who picketed. They were heckled, spit on, laughed at, beat up and arrested by local police, jailed and imprisoned in poorhouses, and forced into hard labor. Yet, the movement persevered. This wasn’t just true in the United States, Great Britain was also experiencing a women’s movement towards “Votes for Women” and meeting the same type of vicious, difficult, and unnecessarily violent resistance to what was dismissed as “petticoat governing.”

In the end, nothing short of an amendment to the United States Constitution would guarantee the right of women to vote throughout the country, not just for local, but for federal offices, too. The White House pickets forced President Woodrow Wilson to reconsider his opposition (his family may have helped with that), and he finally threw his support behind the adoption of the 19th Amendment that would guarantee that the “…right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  With the vote of Tennessee on August 18, 1920, the amendment was ratified. Six days later, the 19th Amendment was certified, and it became the law across the country, just what the early suffragists intended. Great Britain would follow in 1928 with the Representation of the People Act that guaranteed everyone over 21 the right to vote, women included.

This was a struggle not just of an idea or of a right. It was a visual struggle as well. In order to get the message of “Votes for Women” across to so many, pamphlets, broadsides, jewelry, pins, flags, banners, signs, ceramic figurines, newspapers, advertising, even salt and pepper shakers, umbrellas, and any everyday thing were all conscripted into the cause.

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Because most of the memorabilia for this movement was made in small numbers, the auction values tend to be higher. This Votes for Women sash sold for $1555 in 2018.

Because most of the memorabilia of the “Votes for Women” movement was made in relatively small numbers, the auction values are higher than is expected for other similar protest collectibles. The ubiquitous “Votes for Women” sash, for example, can easily be sold at auction for up to $2,300 in the movement’s official colors of white, yellow, and purple for the United States and white, yellow, and green for the United Kingdom. Other sashes in yellow and black are just as easily found, but auction for about $100 to $300 in good condition.

Banners, another picket or demonstration staple, were usually hand-stitched locally and used within their hometown so they were made in relatively small numbers. They can easily auction at $800 to $2,500 depending on whether they are using the official movement colors and if the local suffrage movement is identified on the banner itself.

Most suffrage (Latin for “voting tablet”) items include buttons, pins, and ribbons, especially those for local or national conventions, that easily sell at auction while even the leaflets that were passed along to spectators in the parades, pickets, and demonstrations have a historical and collector value as well.

It has been 100 years since the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing the right of women to vote. It took 300 years from the time of the Mayflower Compact, and today women still need to catch up on other social inequalities such as pay, political representation, corporate boardrooms, and even something as simple as paying the same for dry cleaning items that are similar to men’s garments.

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So many other artifacts from the “Votes for Women” movement include the leaflets here that sold for nearly $90.

“Votes for Women” was a concise and forceful movement slogan. The ancillary memorabilia served to remind voters of the importance of the movement itself, much the same as social media does today. And that certainly helped in the long run.

So, let’s not forget the struggles, the sacrifices, and the vicious hatred of those who resisted such a simple American ideal as one vote, one person. Perhaps, there just may be a lesson in equality that is still to be learned for the sake of others – 400 years in the making.

Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals, and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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Marching to the Memorabilia of the Suffragette