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By Laura Foster. Collections Library of Congress c1913
"Looking Backward." This anti-suffrage artwork shows a woman leaving behind love, marriage, children, and home for suffrage and loneliness. This message -- that women who had the vote would be miserable -- was not uncommon in anti-suffrage messages.

Artwork by Laura E. Foster, c. 1912. Published in Life Magazine, August 22, 1912. From the collections of the Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/item/2002716765/).

Although we often see suffragist and suffragette used as though they mean the same thing, their historical meanings are quite different.

The terms suffrage and enfranchisement mean having the right to vote. Suffragists are people who advocate for enfranchisement. After African American men got the vote in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, “suffrage” referred primarily to women’s suffrage (though there were many other groups who did not have access to the ballot).

The battle for woman’s suffrage was in full force in both Britain and the United States in the early 1900s. Reporters took sides, and in 1906, a British reporter used the word “suffragette” to mock those fighting for women’s right to vote. The suffix “-ette” is used to refer to something small or diminutive, and the reporter used it to minimize the work of British suffragists.

Some women in Britain embraced the term suffragette, a way of reclaiming it from its original derogatory use. In the United States, however, the term suffragette was seen as an offensive term and not embraced by the suffrage movement. Instead, it was wielded by anti-suffragists in their fight to deny women in America the right to vote.


Learn about Women's Struggle for the Vote with lesson plans from Teaching with Historic Places:


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Last updated: July 3, 2018