Cartoons, Caricatures, and Propaganda



The 20th century saw significant changes in the lives of women in Canada. At the start, they couldn’t vote, run for office, had little control of their own property, and almost no protection in the law against violence in the home. 

Suffragettes, people fighting for women’s right to vote in public elections, become leading figures in the fight for women’s equality. The cartoons can tell us what the leading newspapers felt about these women and the sides politicians took. But they can’t tell us the whole story…

What is Suffrage

Suffrage is the right to vote in public elections. It often extends to the call for certain groups to gain representation in public spaces, such as in government or education. Suffragists are people arguing for this right, while suffragettes are advocating specifically for women’s right to vote.

Suffrage Song 

The Marseillaise of the Women

Philip Green Wright. Circa 1911-1915.

Around the world there runs a murmur, 

The sound of voices rising clear;

From China’s plains, from distant Burma, 

From English Town, from Russian mir, 

It grows, it swells upon the ear.

It is the cry of all earth’s daughters,

Arousing from the sleep of year;

It drowns opposing tauts and waters. 

“A wake in every land.

Join forces, hand in hand. 

March on, march on, full in our sight, 

The blessed morning light!



“Too long we’ve held the ignoble station

Which man in his indulgence gave,

Now fawned upon in adulation,

Now thrust aside, his drudge and slave;

Tis equal comradeship we crave. 

Before our eyes, we see outspreading, 

The wide domain of human work;

Its depths our eager feet are treading.

Oh, hear our trumpet call,

For you, for us, for all.

March on, march on, we take our place, 

Your comrades in the race!

“Our ranks increase; from every region

New eager throats take up our song;

New eager eyes — oh, countless legion!

New eager feet all in along

Our new crusade ‘gainst ancient wrong.

The children in the factories hear us,

The women toiler’s faces shine;

They cheer us in our cause divine;

It is only the oppressors fear us.

Awake in every land. 

Join forces, hand in hand.

March on, march on, full in our sight,

The blessed morning light.



“In civic life, in state, in nation,

Our vote must weigh as well as man’s.

In science, art, and education,

Our brain the same horizon scans,

The same folding cosmic plans.

With him the ills of life subding,

With him the good day pressing on,

With glowing eyes, the rising song

We front, with him our path pursuing.

Oh, hear our trumpet call,

For you, for us, for all. 

March on, march on, perfect the plan, 

The woman with the man!”

Toronto mayor runs from an army of suffragettes

Editorial cartoons run a fine line between picturing the news and creative liberties. Here a mob of angry suffragettes chase down Toronto Mayor Joseph Oliver. In reality, Canadian suffragettes almost exclusively used  non-confrontational tactics to advance their cause.

“Mayor Oliver: Wonder who told them we didn’t encourage the suffragette movement in Toronto?”

Newton McConnell, circa 1910, C 301-0-0-0-996, Archives of Ontario, I0007312

Listen to 15 years old Anjali's understanding of this cartoon:

The British Premier hides under a bed from a suffragette

Until 1933, the highest legal court in Canada was actually in the United Kingdom. Canadian suffragettes worked closely with their British counterparts to advance their cause. Unfortunately, UK Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith was opposed giving women voting rights. That may be why he is portrayed by the cartoonist as cowering under the bed.

Premier Asquith: “I’ll not come out- I’m going to assert my authority around here”

Newton McConnell, circa 1905-1914, C 301-0-0-0-32, Archives of Ontario, 10005938

One of the leading figures in the Canadian suffragette movement was Nellie McClung. McClung, along with the other members of the Famous Five, successfully argued that women are eligible to be appointed senators.  McClung was a controversial figure who once had her effigy burned in protest of her politics.

Today we can recognize the role people like McClung played in advancing women’s rights. Yet, she and many other suffragettes were supporters of eugenics: promoting the belief that only those “fit” to have children should. In the 1920s and 30s, laws passed across Canada stopping people living with disabilities from having children. Often this was done through forced sterilization. McClung herself played an instrumental role in introducing eugenics laws in Alberta. Many of these laws weren’t repealed until the 1970s. Forced sterilization continues to occur in Canada as many Indigenous women have come forward as recently as 2018 about their own experiences.

Nellie Mcclung
Nellie McClung
Ice company advertising ice and votes for women

Suffragettes across the world used different tactics to gain the attention and support of the public. This included peaceful tactics, such as creating campaign posters, giving speeches, and writing letters to politicians. More violent and physical approaches were also used, including planting bombs, hunger strikes, and destroying public property. 

So when British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst known for her support of a  militant strategy, visited Toronto, she caused a sensation. In this cartoon, suffragist James L. Hughes is dressed in women’s clothing and pejoratively labelled a suffragette by McConnell.

“James L. Hughes, one of Toronto’s leading suffragettes rehearsing for the coming of Mrs. Pankhurst”

Newton McConnell, circa 1905-1914, C 301-0-0-0-615, Archives of Ontario, I0006786

Swaying the Public

Poems, songs, poster campaigns, and public demonstrations were all used in Canada to sway the public in their favour. 

Editorial cartoonists took liberties in their portrayal of the movement.Especially in more Conservative-leaning newspapers where women’s suffrage was not supported. The different portrayals of suffragettes provide an insight into the minds of those for and against the movement.

Poster calling for “ballots for both!”

Racism and xenophobia were a part of the suffragette movement. The most prominent members were usually white with the means to sustain an ongoing campaign. Many suffragettes, including leading figures like Emily Murphy, believed in white supremacy and advocated against the rights of racialized and Indigenous peoples. In this poster, Ontario suffragettes position their argument as no less valuable than the vote for the “foreign man.”

Ballots for Both. Ontario Franchise Campaign Committee, 1913.

Toronto Public Library, Ca.1913.Ballots.VS

Votes For Women

Even corporations took part in the suffragette movement. Belle Ewart Ice promoted their products to Toronto women, evoking a connection between their product, the home, and voting. Can you think of any companies today that use social movements to promote their products?

“Votes for Women” Belle Ewart Ice Company, Toronto. 1913.

 Toronto Public Library, 1913.

A letter calling for Equal Franchise and Temperance

The suffragette movement was also tied to other causes of the day. The temperance movement sought to limit or ban alcohol, believing it led to immoral and unethical behaviour. 

Many suffragettes believed women were morally superior to men, therefore deserving both the right to vote and abstaining from alcohol. Suffragettes in this poster were also pointing out a link between alcohol companies and donations to anti-suffrage organizations.

Equal Franchise and Temperance. Isabel R Erichsen Brown, 1917.

Toronto Public Library, 1917. Equal. SB


Which province was the first to give women the right to vote?

A. Saskatchewan 

B. Quebec 

C. Manitoba

D. Ontario 

An Unequal Victory

Did suffragettes represent all women? Leaders of the movement were typically White, upper- to middle-class, and English speaking. They were more likely to advocate for those who looked like them and shared their interests, if not actively exclude or harm racialized and Indigenous women.

Woman frowns while reading a poster

Did suffragettes represent all women? Leaders of the movement were typically white, upper- to middle-class, and English speaking. They were more likely to advocate for those who looked like them and shared their interests, if not exclude or harm racialized and Indigenous women.

“News bulletin: for the first time in turkish history women will vote and be eligible to the public office in the general election which takes place this week”, 1930.

BAnQ Québec, Collection initiale, (03Q,P600,S5,PDEN59), A.G. Racey.


Poster calling for canadian mothers to vote during the Great War

Women’s suffrage did not come for all women at the same time. In 1917, Canada passed the Wartimes Election Act, giving the vote to the wives, mothers, sisters, and widows of men serving overseas. 

Yet, this same act also limited votes for anyone considered an “enemy alien.” This included Canadians with German or Eastern European heritage.

The Canadian Mother. Union Government Publicity Bureau, circa 1917.

Toronto Public Library, 1917. Canadian Mother. Outsize


Which groups of women did not receive the federal vote in 1919:

A. Indigenous women

B. Asian women

C. Women under the age of 21

D. All of the above

News Bulletin


Many people feel the suffragettes overwhelmingly contributed positively to Canada. What the cartoons and satire from period illustrate is that they were fighting an uphill battle. If people did not outright hate them, they at least found their cause laughable. 

Next election, think about the generations of people who fought (and continue to fight) for a system that represents all Canadian.


What the cartoons and satire from period illustrate is that suffragettes were fighting an uphill battle. If people did not outright hate them, they at least found their cause laughable. 

Yet these cartoons do not critically engage with their abhorrent views towards people with disabilities and racialized people. It may be that those views were more in line with those at the newspaper.

The legacy of suffragettes and their representation in the public is controversial. They gained the right to vote for women, but who paid the price?