"A Pleasant Argument": Howard Pyle's Look Back to Colonial Times

Sketch for Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Times
Sketch for Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Times, 1880
Howard Pyle (1853–1911)
Graphite on gray-green paper
8 1/4 × 11 9/16 in. (21 × 29.4 cm)

Delaware Art Museum, Gift of Willard S. Morse, 1925

This rough pencil sketch, created by Howard Pyle in 1880 for Harper's Weekly, accompanied an article arguing in favor of granting women suffrage. During the colonial and immediate post-Revolutionary War era, unmarried women who owned property, along with African Americans, were permitted to vote in New Jersey until 1807. Pyle's final illustration, which you can see below, is described in Harper's as a "charming picture" that gives a "glimpse of the quaint and old times, and is in itself a pleasant argument." The composition depicts three white women of different ages, all dressed respectably, casting their votes in a polling place amidst clusters of men. Notably, there are no African American men pictured, despite the fact that they, too, could vote at this moment in the "good old times."

At the time of Pyle's illustration, the 15th Amendment, which ostensibly allowed African American men to vote, had been law for ten years. However, women's suffrage was still a topic of contention. The years before the passage of the 15th Amendment saw a rift that divided suffrage advocacy groups that had arisen after the Civil War to champion the voting rights of both women and African Americans. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who argued that white women were more deserving than Black men, broke away from their former colleagues and formed their own suffragist organization.

Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Days
Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Days, produced for Harper's Weekly Magazine, vol. 24, November 30, 1880
Howard Pyle (1853-1911)