Columbia Demands the Vote (Even if It Kills Her)

If you study Miss Columbia, you’ll come across this image here, but the story behind it is harder to figure out. Thanks to a professor of philosophy that I recently met at a coffee shop over near Gallaudet University, the image’s context is now clear. This professor, knowing of my project, saw this picture in a blog for which she occasionally writes, and kindly sent me the story.

One hundred years ago on 3 March, women gathered in the District of Columbia to demand the right to vote. The Atlantic Magazine’s website did a story to commemorate the event. The marchers, both men and women, encountered a great deal of opposition.

I wonder if Inez Milholland Boissevain (see below) is also dressed as Columbia; the Star of Empire on her diadem would suggest as much. The images here show quite a few other women dressed allegorically.  Once you open your eyes to it, you find America’s pre-Jazz Age visual history filled with images of women (and men) as allegorical figures.

It was in the 1920s that Miss Columbia pretty well vanished from our culture’s stock of characters. Some scholars feel that women’s suffrage was Columbia’s demise. Before they had the vote, one of the only ways that women “participated” in politics was as Miss Columbia, the figure of Justice, Agriculture, etc. With women having a voice of their own, treating women as political symbols became more difficult.

Please do take a look. You’ll get a fascinating view of how our world once looked.