This year marks the century of the Representation of the People’s Act, and Irish Suffragette Movement, when women were first allowed to cast their votes, after decades of demanding this basic right. It is an important occurrence in the history of Irish suffrage, and to commemorate the centenary of the first national female vote in Ireland, the National Print Museum set up a temporary exhibit, “Print, Protest and the Polls”, featuring various print propaganda from the movement on display, including posters, cartoon sketches, postcards and photographs. This is composed of items designed by the Irish suffragists as well as their opponents.
“Such cartoons mocked the movement and its supporters, and the patriarchal thoughts on the movement clearly ring through”
The National Print Museum, located in the former Garrison Chapel of Beggars Bush Barracks in Ballsbridge, houses printing machines, equipments and artefacts from the pre-computer era. The exhibits on display are, quite fascinatingly, still in operation and regular demonstrations are held where people can see the machines at work. It is also home to one of the surviving thirty copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The Irish Suffragette Movement exhibition is definitely worth a visit to understand more about women’s rebellion to obtain the right to vote, which is often taken for granted, if it does return as a permanent exhibition.
As you start perusing the exhibition, you come across a timeline of the movement, which is worth looking at as a starting point. There are blurbs pertaining to each form of print used and its connotations. Whilst there are postcards from the time on display, what really catches one’s attention are the anti-Suffragette cartoons, initially printed in newspapers and other mass print media. These depict the pro-Suffragette women as almost masculine, law-breaking, destructive individuals and were, more often than not, depicted as “an ugly old-fashioned spinster.” Such cartoons mocked the movement and its supporters, and the patriarchal thoughts on the movement clearly ring through. The postcards on display are of a similar essence: women being shown as troublemakers and as a minor menace that can be easily dealt with. One postcard in particular caught my eye, showing a policeman wilfully smiling while carrying a petite pro-Suffragette lady in his arms. This shows that the movement was not taken seriously at all by most men.
“propaganda material is often of an ephemeral type, meant to create an instant buzz and then be discarded”
As propaganda material is often of an ephemeral type, meant to create an instant buzz and then be discarded, most of the print material from the Suffragette movement is lost to time. To signify this, an empty case is also on display towards the end of the exhibition. In addition to the main exhibition, also on display are three unique posters designed by three contemporary graphic designers to commemorate a hundred years of the movement.
Even as the location of the exhibition sets a suitable aura for the displayed artefacts, talks with one of the employees at the museum revealed their plans to set this short exhibition up in a permanent location. It brings to light the importance of print media in forwarding information and expressing opinions in the age when social media was not a platform. The Suffragette movement is an integral part of Irish history and inspiring to women and men to constantly endeavour for more equality between sexes, on all grounds.