Get Off the Steps: Woman Suffrage Takes Precedence

[San Francisco, CA]: [May 12, 1894].

California's preeminent political magazine comments on the suffrage movement's relationship to class, race, and queerness

(Item #4112) Get Off the Steps: Woman Suffrage Takes Precedence. Women's Suffrage, The Wasp.

Get Off the Steps: Woman Suffrage Takes Precedence

[San Francisco, CA]: [May 12, 1894]. First edition. Large chromolithograph centerfold from the California magazine The Wasp. Measuring 513 x 339mm and in excellent condition, retaining its bright colors with only the slightest bit of foxing and toning to the margins. Focused on social and political satire, the influential Western publication weighed in on what they viewed as the shifting tides of the national women's suffrage movement. Scarce institutionally, with only a few libraries reporting full runs that would include this year, the present is the only copy on the market.

"Established in 1876, The Wasp rose above the dozen or so weekly magazines in the area, primarily due to its vibrant illustrations...And the magazine did what it could to sway political opinion" (Nast). The present is an example of the complex and problematic relationship of the American woman suffrage movement to issues of race and class; and it further encapsulates the damaging misogyny and homophobia that shaped the media's depictions of women's equality activists. In a large image depicting the U.S. Capitol steps adorned with a sign "Notice: Keep Off the Grass, Keep Off the Steps," a fashionably dressed woman waving a "Woman Must Have Her Say!" banner while stepping over the battered protesters Carl Browne and Jacob Coxey, who hold a protest bill and a warrant for disturbing the police. The title beneath declares: "Get Off the Steps, Woman Suffrage Takes Precedence Over Coxey and His Cause." Earlier that spring, "Carl Browne had helped Jacob S. Coxey lead the first march on Washington...setting out from Massillon, Ohio and marching to Washington, DC with a few hundred unemployed people. Together they advocated for a public jobs project for the unemployed. On arrival, Coxey decided to speak on the Capitol grounds, even though it was illegal. Both Coxey and Browne were arrested and imprisoned" (Mall History).

The Wasp strategically compares the two movements, noting in its caption, "A tremendous flutter is now marking the progress of the question of woman's suffrage in the Eastern states. The agitation has not, as usual, been confined to the 'short haired women and the long-haired men.' It has been taken up by the leaders of fashion and some of the best known women of New York. The situation is highly interesting and indicating the progress of a movement towards the political emancipation of the weaker sex." While Coxey and Browne lie bruised and cast down on the steps following their protest on behalf of the working class, the silk-clad suffragist in her corset, flounces, and train pushes them down further to clear the path for her and those like her. The implication from the image captures the suffrage movement's problematic privileging of white women of means in its efforts -- and its disregard for poorer, less educated, or more racially diverse women's interest. The text, meanwhile, suggests that it is only with such women as representatives that the movement will gain traction -- that a white feminine ideal will succeed by proving that activists are not only violators of gender norms or members of queer communities. Notably, The Wasp does take a dig at Coxey, Browne, and their supporters as well, with the text of their protest sign reading "We Will Stay Here All Summer (If It Costs Nothing)" -- thus suggesting that the unemployed have a lazy, freeloading nature.

A complex social commentary, made only more interesting for the advertisements and literary selections on the verso. And a set of views promoted by one of the most influential political magazines in California and the Western US.
Near Fine (Item #4112)

Get Off the Steps: Woman Suffrage Takes Precedence