The Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association tells voters to keep cool

Keep Cool! There will be nothing to worry about after we get Votes for Women Election Day November 2. [Boston, Summer 1915?]
Hand fan printed recto and verso on yellow card stock, including an outline map of the United States. 7” x 7” at sheet edge, mounted in a slot at end of a simple wooden dowel, the whole 12 ½” high. Fan somewhat soiled, creased and bent, the mount a bit loose. But find another one!

An extremely rare hand fan produced in support of the 1915 campaign for woman suffrage in Massachusetts, with an example of the iconic persuasive map first developed by Bertha Knobe.

The front of the fan features a punning exhortation to “Keep Cool! There will be nothing to worry about after we get Votes for Women”. The reverse side features a map of the United States, with each state shown in simple outline and colored according to the political status granted to its women: black for no suffrage, white for full suffrage (“free states”), and shaded for states where suffrage was on the ballot in 1915. The general pattern is of full women’s suffrage in the western states, subverting Easterners’ comfortable presumption that American progress advanced from East to West. Below the map is the pointed question, “If the men of the West trust their women with the ballot –Why can’t the women of Massachusetts be trusted?”

The fan was produced for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, which in 1915 led the charge for a suffrage amendment to the Massachusetts state constitution. The MWSA was founded in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone and others, at a time when women in the state were only permitted to vote in local school committee elections. By 1915 it had evolved into a powerful pressure group with more than 58,000 members, but the proposed amendment was nevertheless defeated by a lopsided margin of nearly 2:1. The women of Massachusetts only gained the vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

By 1900 only four lower-population states in the West had enacted full woman suffrage, most recently Idaho and Utah in 1896, and the national push for woman suffrage was flagging. But a new generation of leaders revivified the movement, introducing new tactics such as the widespread use of persuasive maps. The breakthrough came with a map by journalist Bertha Knobe, which first appeared in the December 1907 issue of Appleton’s and was soon syndicated elsewhere. Knobe’s innovation was to abjure a simple black-and-white differentiation of states with and without full suffrage, and rather to use shading to indicate states with at least some degree of suffrage, such as in municipal or school board elections. Thus, instead of emphasizing just the four full-suffrage states, her map showed that more than half of the country (at least as measured by landmass!) had enacted some degree of suffrage.

“Knobe’s decision to highlight these partial voting rights reflected a new strategy of the larger movement: rather than insist on equality in all areas, as Stanton had, many suffragists at the turn of the century embraced more limited and achievable gains that respected regional customs and gender roles…. Knobe mapped this strategy by identifying any progress of woman’s suffrage, such as the right to vote in school elections or presidential primaries…. Seen in this light, her map is as much an act of aspiration as of reporting, an effort to boost the movement by marking minor victories that many suffragists considered inconsequential or even detrimental.” (Schulten, pp. 37-38)

Knobe’s map caught on, and the woman suffrage movement ultimately saw to the printing of millions of maps “on billboards, posters, parade floats, pageants, silent films, window cards, newspaper ads and articles”. Indeed, the ever-shifting landscape of suffrage, with its seemingly endless process of votes at the state and local level, created a serious financial burden for the movement, which found itself having to revise and reprint its maps in huge numbers. (Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, #1193)

Hand fans such as that offered here were a popular form of suffrage swag; for example, also in 1915 some 35,000 of a similar design were distributed for the Empire State Campaign in New York. (Margaret Finnegan, Selling Suffrage, p. 124) Their construction was extremely fragile, and despite the large numbers produced they are extremely rare today. The Massachusetts fan offered here is not recorded in OCLC, and a Google search turns up but two examples, one at the National Museum of American History and another sold at Heritage Auctions in 2008 for $507.88, current location not known. 

Not in OCLC. Background on Knobe’s map from a pre-publication draft of Susan Schulten, ““Make the map all white:” the meaning of maps in the prohibition and suffrage campaigns”, University of Colorado Law Review, volume 92 (2021). Background on the use of fans to promote the suffrage movement from Kenneth Florey, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2013), pp. 90-91.