A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840-1910

By Martha M. Solomon | Go to book overview

necessary. The general circulation press was now serving these purposes.

What accounted for this change in press coverage? Lauren Jeanne Kessler, who studied the relationship between the general circulation press and the suffrage press in Oregon, offers conclusions that could be applied to the entire country. She argues that a group that has been denied access to the press can only gain entry after the "group attains legitimate status within the society" and after social acceptance is attained.44 She concludes that male editors purposefully and systematically denied women access to the press as a means of "symbolic annihilation," i.e., a denial of social existence.45 An extension of her argument, then, is that as woman suffrage gained more and more popularity and as the movement attracted increased national attention, the editors were forced to cover the speeches, conventions, and lobbying activities as news.46 This analysis, consistent with the chronology of events throughout the country, echoes the claim of the television documentary "The Female Rebellion," which argued that the press did not support woman suffrage until after the Senate had passed the amendment and ratification appeared inevitable.47 Both the suffrage press and the suffrage movement were subsumed into activities of the newly formed League of Women Voters following ratification of the amendment.48 Nonetheless, seventy-two years of suffrage activity and ninety-two years of feminist publishing had left their mark on American women forever.


Conclusion

The events of the nineteenth century involving woman's rights and woman's publishing led to a body of journalism that served several functions for the woman's rights movement. Comparing the purpose statements of nineteenth-century woman editors, examining the content of their papers, and considering the critiques of several scholars reveal numerous functions. First, these papers reached a less homogeneous audience than did lecturers and convention speakers. For example, this varied audience could include women from divergent social classes and, very importantly, men. With readership estimates ranging from a few hundred to several thousand, the papers were obviously being read by more than a few active middle-class women. Second, newspapers could reach larger numbers of people than could any single speaker. By definition, conventions and lecture meetings were limited to the seating capacity of the auditoriums, whereas newspapers could be printed in large

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