Suffragettes: Types of Caricature

The Strong Arm Squad of the Future
P: Mutual Film Corp. USA ca. 1912
Print: UCLA Film & Television Archive

“At the close of the nineteenth century, women had won full voting privileges in just four sparsely populated western states, and there would be no further progress for more than a decade. However, between 1910 and 1912, thanks to new leadership and more activist tactics by the women’s movement, five more states passed voting statutes. As documented in On to Washington, (…) suffragettes took to the streets—and provoked open backlash. The battlegrounds included newspaper editorial cartoons, the spirit of which was carried into such animated films as this one. The Strong Arm Squad of the Future originated within the early newsreel ‘The Mutual Weekly’ and survives only as an undated fragment.
Suffragettes inspired two distinct types of caricature, both incorporated in The Strong Arm Squad of the Future. The ‘new’ suffragette type, drawn as a lovely Gibson Girl, is only glimpsed in the film — the third in its little parade of six uniformed women — and she is statuesque enough here to have to step down into the frame. In newspaper cartoons such caricatures were seen, for instance, seducing rough frontiersmen into granting voting rights at the time of the 1911 California referendum. The other women in The Strong Arm Squad of the Future, however, are mannish and grotesque, especially the truncheon-wielding fifth woman with her odd wandering eyeball. That older caricature tradition paralleled attitudes still expressed, as in a 1912 Brooklyn Citizen editorial informing its readers that ‘the strong-minded and hard-featured woman, as most suffragettes are, repels the male.'”
Scott Simmon
National Film Preservation Foundation