By Jessica Wilson and Anthony Pankuch
In the early 1900s, the Leap Year was a time in which women took the lead in courtship; by 1908 this trend was commercialized. The binder, “Feminists Leap Year Vol. 2,” from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, contains postcards from this era often depicting women as aggressive, desperate, and frenzied in their pursuit of male companions and husbands. Occasionally humorous or romantic, Leap Year postcards provide a revealing glimpse into the usurping of traditional gender roles and the way in which popular culture attempted to reassert male dominance through satire.
We have noticed that the image of aggressive women pursuing a reluctant male saturates the satirical drawings on many of the Leap Year postcards.
This satirical depiction of a man going to extreme measures to protect himself against an aggressive, if not desperate, woman reflects both an effort to shift control of courtship back into the hands of the man and perhaps a literal protection of his worth. This image creates the impression that pursuant women face barriers to marrying an unwilling man. Interestingly, the sender of this postcard placed her own commentary on the front of the card: “Poor “Jack” had to lay his armour down.” This, presumably, is referring to a man finally caught by his female suitor!
We have found the desperate female suitor is similarly depicted in satirical drawings, such as the image below.
The woman here is in an obviously submissive position, desperately begging for the man’s companionship. Again, although this image depicts the woman as the pursuer, the man is in the dominant position physically and in control of the decision to accept a relationship. The female sender of this postcard placed names above the man, “Milo,” and the woman, “Saramae,” as a reference to perhaps a humorous relationship between two people both the sender and addressee know.
As we’ll show in our next blog post, many similarities emerge when we compared the Leap Year postcards to the satirical postcards of the suffrage movement. One of our favorite postcards provides commentary on traditional gender roles and the challenge that suffragettes placed on “traditional” norms.
The man depicted here is obviously struggling to complete the laundry, suggesting that men are ill-suited for domestic work and inconvenienced by women’s participation in the suffrage movement. The quote, “Is your wife a Suffragette?,” suggests that women’s participation in the movement led to negligence of domestic duties. Such, apparently, was the struggle of the suffragette’s husband!
Both the Leap Year and anti-suffrage postcards use satire to question the shift in gender roles during this period. Humor masks the reassertion of masculinity, while also demeaning the female character. While Leap Year postcards serve to present a small sense of power to women in courtship, the anti-suffrage postcards reinforce the importance of women in daily household functions.
The fascinating depictions of women and men as seen through imagery and letters from the early 1900s continue to broaden the knowledge of gender roles and remind us, in 2018, that satire and humor abound throughout history as brilliant commentary on social and cultural changes.
The David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, searchable at postcard.uakron.edu, is a key collection of the CCHP’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. This blog series chronicles student efforts to make a select group of these postcards more accessible through an Unclass offered through the EXL Center and the English Department at the University of Akron.