Object Analysis: Anti-Suffrage Voodoo Doll

Anti-suffrage Voodoo Doll posted through a letterbox in West Wales ©Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The photo above shows an anti-suffrage voodoo doll which was posted through a woman’s letterbox in West Wales.[1] Not much is known about this item as it was sent anonymously;[2] however, we can guess that the recipient would have had some involvement with the suffrage movement or had shown sympathy for the cause.  The figure’s face is hand-drawn with ink and the face is purposefully drawn in an unpleasant manner to suggest that the women who campaigned for suffrage were hideous and unfeminine. The face also depicts a woman of an older age possibly to portray the character of an ‘old maid’ – a woman who never married.

The idea to present this doll as having an unpleasant look could have been done to suggest that women who campaigned for female suffrage were ugly old ladies that hadn’t found a husband. The idea to represent the doll as foul is used to threaten the intended recipient and insult the women campaigning for the vote.

The figure is homemade and has several pins sticking out of her body so arguably the intent of this object is to instil fear and the threat of violence. The recipient may have been known as a sympathiser or campaigner for the suffrage cause which could have angered members of the community. The tension and threat of violence that occurred during this period was widespread across Britain and not confined to Wales. Both the suffragettes and the anti-suffragists took part in agitation and violence during the Edwardian campaign and the growing media attention due to these violent episodes made female suffrage one of the top political issues of the time.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, female suffrage has been a main focal point of study amongst historians of gender and has received a large deal of analysis. Although much historiographical attention from the likes of Martin Pugh, Lisa Tickner and Laura Mayhall has been focused on the women advocating for enfranchisement,[3] little attention has been given to those women and men who opposed the vote.

Opposition to the movement in general histories of the suffrage campaign are only mentioned briefly  in their interactions with the suffrage movement itself, so an in-depth study of the opposition is often forgotten with historians preferring to focus on the often bigger and perhaps more exciting reform movement such as the movement for female emancipation in Britain. However, without an in-depth study of the opposition of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain, the full history of the movement will never be accurately documented.

In concurrence with Pugh, it would be wrong for historians to ‘minimise the role of the opponents of the women’s cause simply because they were on the losing side’.[4] It is not gender history if those responsible for documenting women’s history only focus on the women seeking rights and reform. The campaign for enfranchisement had a large opposition in parliament as well as within the realm of public opinion, so why has the opposition received such little attention? Brian Harrison and Julia Bush have both produced works that give a general overview of the national opposition taking the form of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League (WNASL) and the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage (NLOWS).[5] Although accounts such as these are some of the first academic studies of the opposition to female suffrage, they fail to provide a thoroughly detailed assessment of the movement.

There needs to be more work done within the realms of gender history and British history to accurately document the opposition to such movements as the suffrage campaign to accurately portray the right atmosphere and challenges that these women faced in gaining the vote.

[1] Anti-Suffrage Voodoo Doll, National Museum Wales, WA_SC 4.1.

[2] https://museum.wales/collections/online/object/bf12482e-ffee-35fb-b28d-2c609c5cdd7c/Anti-suffragette-doll/?field0=string&value0=anti-suffrage%20doll%20&field1=with_images&value1=on&index=0, accessed 30 July 2018.

[3] Martin Pugh, The March of the Women: A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage 1866-1914 (Oxford, 2000); Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: imagery of the suffrage campaign 1907-14 (Chicago, 1988); Laura E. Nym Mayhall, Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain 1860-1930 (Oxford, 2003).

[4] Pugh, March of the Women, 165.

[5] Brian Harrison, Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain (London, 1978); Julia Bush, Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain (Oxford, 2007).

[6] Lucy Delap, ‘Feminist and anti-feminist encounters in Edwardian Britain’, Historical Research, 78(2005), 379.[