Item #8268 Votes for Women : Sylvia Pankhurst : Artist, Historian and Suffragist.

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Votes for Women : Sylvia Pankhurst : Artist, Historian and Suffragist.

[Milwaukee, WI: 1912.]. Illustrated broadside in purple and green, 9” x 6”. CONDITION: Very good, old folds, two miniscule strips of tape residue at upper margin.

An unrecorded and vividly printed handbill in the colors of the British suffrage movement advertising a 1912 lecture by renowned Suffragette and leftist social organizer Sylvia Pankhurst in Milwaukee, then a “Socialist city.”

Sylvia Pankhurst made her appearance at Milwaukee’s landmark Pabst Theatre on the evening of Friday, February 2nd, during her second North American tour (the first took place in early 1911). In addition to lecturing, Pankhurst used her 1912 tour “to investigate and describe the conditions of American working-class life” (Connelly [1]). To this end—wanting to “see a Socialist city”—she spent a week in Milwaukee, which was then led by Emil Seidel, the first Socialist mayor of a major American city, and, later that year, Eugene Debs’s vice presidential candidate (Sangster). The lecture advertised here was organized by the American Suffragettes, a group of women whose openness to militant direct action aligned them with Pankhurst’s British movement, and who adopted the British term “to signal their radicalism” (Marino). Tickets are advertised from twenty-five cents to a dollar, and “men are especially invited.”

Pankhurst’s American tours were extensive, taking her to nineteen states as well as Washington, D.C. and Canada. Part of her goal was to justify the militant tactics that were part of her campaigns in England but that had not (and ultimately would not) enter largely into the American suffrage movement. She also discussed suffrage history and conditions for women in prison and at work. “[T]o her great frustration, Pankhurst discovered that her audiences, frequently comprising suffragists from privileged backgrounds, while quite prepared to accept that terrible conditions might prevail for women in the ‘old country,’ believed that these ills were not present in modern America” (Connelly [2]). She told an audience in Oakland, California: 

Here in America you always say the conditions are not so bad with you—but I want you to know that they are probably worse than you think. Your laws are not what they ought to be for the protection of women workers. (Oakland Tribune)

Pankhurst’s 1912 tour—during which she also visited the South and participated in the funeral march for those lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City—was particularly instrumental in “cement[ing] her own left-wing suffrage ideals” (Sangster), in which women’s suffrage and trade unionism were allied by their overarching fight for self-representation. She broke with her mother and sister’s more conservative Women’s Social and Political Union not long after her return.

We find no record of this handbill, but its motif, with different text, was used on various materials, including on a mammoth poster announcing a 1911 lecture by Sylvia’s mother Emmeline in Hartford, Connecticut. The use of purple and green is unusual in American suffrage materials, which, following the adoption by Kansas suffragists of the sunflower as their symbol in the 1860s, tended to favor gold. (When the National Women’s Party formed in 1916, its official colors were purple, white, and gold.) The design seems to be taken from the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union, which Sylvia founded with her mother and sister in 1903. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, a leader of the organization and editor of its weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, explained the colors’ meanings: “Purple, as everyone knows is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity…white stands for purity in private and public life…green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.” 

No copies recorded in OCLC, nor do we locate any other examples anywhere online.

A rare and appealing handbill for a Milwaukee lecture by important British Suffragette and leftist organizer Sylvia Pankhurst during an American tour that “profoundly shaped her radical worldview.”

REFERENCES: Connelly, Katherine (1). “A Suffragette in America,” Tribune, 3 August 2020; Oakland Tribune, 12 March 1911; Connelly, Katherine (2). “Sylvia Pankhurst the East London Suffragettes and the Chicago Strikers,” Chicago History Museum via issuu online; Marino, Katherine M. “The International History of the US Suffrage Movement,” National Park Service online; Sangster, Joan. Review of Connelly’s A Suffragette in America in Labour/Le Travail, No. 85 (2020) online.

Item #8268

Price: $2,750.00

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