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Suffrage Bluebirds

In the summer and fall of 1915 tin bluebirds popped up all over Massachusetts. These die-cut tin birds with intense blue and yellow coloring had “Votes for Women” emblazoned down their chests. The prominent placement of “Nov. 2” on their tail feathers confirmed their purpose: to remind voters to support the referendum on women’s suffrage scheduled for that date. At 12” by 4” (much larger than an actual bluebird) this unique brand of outdoor advertising would have been hard to miss.

Starting around 1910, there was a palpable, almost electric change in practically every aspect of the suffrage movement. New tactics, new recruits, new strategies—all came together to energize the cause. For the first time it was possible to speak of suffrage as a mass movement.

A huge factor in the new suffrage dynamism was its more aggressive deployment of public spectacle. Suffragists literally took to the streets—in parades and pageants, in open-air meetings, in strikes, and on picket lines—often decked out in the suffrage colors of white, purple and gold. More and more women (and a few intrepid men) were willing to stand up and be counted in very public ways, including risking arrest and possible jail sentences for their actions. This brash “in your face” mentality made suffragists very hard to ignore.

In response to the rejuvenated movement, opponents dug in their heels. When male voters in Massachusetts went to the polls on November 2, 1915, they soundly defeated the referendum. A similar referendum in New York State also went down to defeat. Even though the prospect of victory was firmly in sight by then, the actual steps necessary to reach that goal remained tantalizingly unclear.