"How Elusive Freedom Has Been": Nostalgic Visions of the Ballot

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, granted African American men the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920, granted women the right to vote--but in both cases, these rights only applied on paper. In practical terms, African American men and women were prevented from voting through the uses of poll taxes and literacy tests until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Howard Pyle's 1880 sketch recreates colonial-era white women voting in New Jersey, where they and African American men were permitted to vote until 1807. Published in its final form in Harper's Weekly, the image and accompanying editorial text create an idealized version of the brief period of time when women could vote in New Jersey as an overall argument in favor of suffrage.

Moving into the future, Marisol's image of two of the most famous suffrage activists, and Jacob Lawrence's print of African Americans voting, were created as part of a 1975 portfolio that celebrated the bicentennial of the United States.

Question to ponder:

  • How do these voting-related works depict the past behind the exercising of the right to vote?