Women's Suffrage: 1890-1920

Name/School: Joan O’Brien, The MacDuffie School 
Course and Grade Level: U.S. History, 11th Grade

Topic: Suffrage Lesson: Interpreting Political Cartoons

Overview: Students will use political cartoons to demonstrate their understanding of the suffrage unit. This is a long unit and although the cartoons could serve a role at different points in the unit, they are used here to conclude the unit. After having studied the politics of the suffrage movement, with particular emphasis on the last 20 years of the movement, students will examine the cartoons provided and for each they must write a one sentence caption/description. Students will then determine which of the suffrage arguments are not represented in their cartoons and search for cartoons to complete the set.

Time: 3-4 days


  • Assorted pro-suffrage political cartoons from Sophia Smith Collection (U.S. Suffrage collection, Box 2 folder 60)


  • Concepts: Suffrage Campaign
  • Content: Understanding arguments of suffragists
  • Skills: Analyzing political cartoons, evaluating and organizing arguments, searching for primary documents/political cartoons online, writing an argument

Procedures: Students will have studied the suffrage movement by reading a variety of primary and secondary materials and viewing clips from One Woman One Vote. Toward the end of the unit, the teacher will give the students a set of political cartoons dating from approximately 1915-1920. The students will analyze the cartoons, interpret them, and write captions for each. In small groups they will look at their findings and take note of which of the suffragists’ arguments are not included. They will then search online sources to see if they can fill the missing gap. They may not be successful, but that is part of our discussion as well. Upon completion of their set of cartoons, they must now—individually—choose the cartoon that they think would be most representative of the movement and explain this choice in a letter to the textbook editors.

Evaluation/Assessment: Students will select one political cartoon from the set given to them (and those that they have found) and choose the one they would use to accompany their textbook’s section on the suffrage movement. They will justify their choice in a short essay.

Tips/reflections from author: The teacher can pick and choose whatever cartoons she wishes. The same exercise could be done with anti-suffrage cartoons as well; one could divide the class and do a similar search and selection.