An unrecorded handbill issued by the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia during the nationwide campaign for the 19th Amendment. With a simple-but-effective persuasive map of the status of women’s voting rights across the country, making effective use of color to suggest that states denying women the vote are mired in darkness and ignorance.
By 1900 only four states (beginning with Wyoming in 1869) had granted women the vote, and the suffrage effort was flagging. But a new generation of leaders revitalized the movement, introducing new tactics such as maps showing the progress of women’s suffrage at the state level. The maps were designed to convey the logic, even inevitability, of the extension of suffrage. According to PJ Mode they were “used in billboards, posters, parade floats, pageants, silent films, window cards, newspaper ads and articles,” and this use of persuasive cartography “has been called “the most extensive use of a single iconic map image for persuasive purposes in the United States.” (Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, #1193) Given their ephemeral nature, however, almost all of these maps are today tremendously rare.
Offered here is a very rare example of the genre, a small handbill featuring an outline map of country, with each state shaded according to the suffrage status granted to its women: generally speaking, full suffrage (white) in the western states; partial suffrage (gray) in the Midwest, New England and pockets of the South and no suffrage (black) elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. A table below the map lists states where women had full suffrage, and the year it was won. Text at the bottom lists countries with full and partial suffrage for women, with the exhortation “What does this STEADY GROWTH indicate to YOU? Why should the women of VIRGINIA be excluded from this progressive step?
The map was issued by the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. The League was established in 1909 and eventually had 32,000 members and chapters in every town of over 2500. The League succeeded in bringing a voting-rights amendment before the State Assembly three times, but it never came close to passage. Virginia women only gained the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment took effect, though the state did not formally ratify it until 1952!