Print, Protest & the Polls
The Irish women’s suffrage campaign and the power of print media, 1908 – 1918
Curated by Donna Gilligan
This exhibition, first displayed in 2018, commemorated the centenary of the first national female vote in Ireland. It explored the use of print by the Irish suffragists, and their opponents, in their methods of protest and promotion.
The exhibition dealt with a neglected period in Irish women’s history, and examined the powerful relationship between this political protest and the contemporary developing print media. Print ephemera, photographs, and newspaper publications illustrate the influence and effect of protest through print in this period of early mass media. They demonstrate the important role which the process of print played in the Irish fight for women’s right to vote.
Print and Irish Suffrage Protest
A second wave of suffrage activism emerged in Ireland in the early 1900s, headed by several young women who had benefitted from advances in female educational opportunities. Developments on a more international scale, such as the formation of the radical English Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), also influenced this second generation of Irish suffragists.
The early twentieth century was the Golden Age of picture postcards. Developments in printing led to the production of a large range of high quality cards at low prices. They were used as a cheap and effective method of circulating promotion and propaganda by the suffrage campaign.
Suffrage Opposition and Promotion in Print
On a wider international scale, women involved in the suffrage movement were publicly represented in largely negative or mocking views. Visual humour played a prominent role in both the suffrage and anti-suffrage imagery.
Irish suffragists used all facets of print media to help promote their demand for equal franchise, as well as to help foster a positive public image of the female campaigners. At a time when women had no voice in politics, print allowed women to have a voice in the public sphere with which to campaign for change.
Protest in Print
The 1911 census of Britain and Ireland offered a unique and large-scale opportunity for women in the suffrage campaign to mark their objections to their lack of a political voice.
The foundation of the Irish suffrage newspaper The Irish Citizen in 1912 acted as a way in which Irish suffragists could both distinguish themselves from the English movement and form a patriotic vehicle for Irish suffrage. It was circulated throughout the thirty-two counties and informed women across the country of developments and issues, providing a national platform for opinion from Irish women from all nationalist, suffrage and socialist groups.
Suffrage Action Recorded in Print
Surviving photographs and print ephemera record a number of the many varied activities carried out by Irish suffragists in their efforts to achieve the right to vote. These records show their brave and innovative forms of public protest, and their effective promotion and publicity of the cause.
The Path to the First Female Vote
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 divided the Irish suffragists, with some stepping back from suffrage activities to help in the war effort, and others distancing themselves from the events to continue to focus on suffrage.
1918 ushered in the Representation of the People Act to Parliament. This now allowed for a select number of women to vote.
Curator Donna Gilligan
Exhibition Printer Spera Brand Management
Promotional Printer Colorman
Project Management Carla Marrinan Funder
Lenders Timothy Collins, Martina Sheridan, Tonie Walsh, National Library of Ireland
Image rights National Library of Ireland, Museum of London, National Archives, Dublin City Council Library & Archives, UCC Library Special Collections & Archives, The Women’s Library collection at LSE, National Treasures
The exhibition lead image features part of a cartoon illustration from a November 1912 edition of The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly and has been used with the courtesy of Dublin City Library and Archives.
Special thanks Sandra Collins, Sandra McDermot, Louise O’Connor, Gerry Long, Matthew Cains, William Treacy and Sons, Andrew Clancy, Curatorial Committee of National Print Museum, Mary Clark, Phoenix Framers, Tara Flynn, Maeve Casserly, John O’Loughlin, David Donohue, Joseph McBrinn, Enda Leaney, Richard Collins
Sponsors Dublin City Council, Smurfit Kappa Ireland, Spera Brand Management, Colorman, Vermillion, and European Year of Cultural Heritage