Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Gail Levin

Committee Members

Katherine Manthorne

Kathleen McCarthy

Patricia Hills

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | American Studies | Modern Art and Architecture | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


women's suffrage, United States, women artists, twentieth century


In 1920, women in the United States finally won the right to vote. The campaign for suffrage, which began in the 1848, with the first women’s rights convention held at Seneca Falls, NY, involved the efforts and enthusiasm of countless women who believed that they both deserved and needed the right to vote. This dissertation investigates the ways in which women artists both responded to and contributed to this divisive movement through painting and sculpture during the final decades of the campaign, when visual culture and propaganda played a crucial role in advancing the suffrage and anti-suffrage agendas. The literature on the visual culture of women’s suffrage has centered almost exclusively on popular imagery, while painting and sculpture has received very little attention. In using the suffrage movement as an interpretive frame, I add a new layer of understanding and analysis to painting and sculpture by women of this period, while enriching a historically important movement through the inclusion of fine visual art

Employing a social-historical methodology with women’s suffrage as a contextual framework, this dissertation uses formal, biographical, and archival evidence to interpret certain examples of painting and sculpture by women artists who supported the movement. Each chapter investigates specific themes, which demonstrate how women artists conceived of diverse, sometimes obvious, and, often, nuanced ways of giving voice and credibility to their status as women and professionals, and their collective struggle to be fully acknowledged American citizens. Several chapters explores the more obvious manifestations of suffrage in fine art: Chapter 1 looks portraiture and the creation of a “pantheon” of suffrage pioneers; Chapter 2 focuses on depictions of parades and demonstrations. The latter chapters explore specific themes that reflect an engagement with women’s suffrage in subtler, less obvious ways. Chapter 3 looks at Joan of Arc as a militant icon; Chapter 4 is concerned with the appropriation of the maternal imagery in suffrage propaganda; Chapter 5 carries forward the theme of motherhood into the realm of municipal housekeeping and progressive reform; Chapter 6 hones in on the problem of prostitution and white slavery during the Progressive Era; and Chapter 7 considers the appearance of suffrage thought in the context of modernist art. This thematic study of selected artists will show compelling evidence for the often subtle, sometimes explicit, insertion of suffrage dialogue into the rarified world of fine art.