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Rose O’Neill’s Kewpies A Symbolic Force in the Fight for Women’s Rights

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In the tapestry of American history, where the struggle for women’s suffrage unfolds, the contributions of artists and illustrators have woven vibrant threads, among which Rose O’Neill’s work stands out with distinct clarity and charm. Best known for creating the whimsical Kewpie dolls, O’Neill channeled her artistic genius into a fervent advocacy for women’s rights, ingeniously marrying her creative endeavors with the political movements of her time.

Rose O Neill illustrator and originator of the Kewpie doll posed in Gertrude Käsebiers New York City studio
Rose O’Neill, illustrator and originator of the “Kewpie” doll, posed in Gertrude Käsebier’s New York City studio

In this feature we take a look at how Kewpie’s were used in postcards and printed material to promote women’s rights Votes for Women in the US, and how these have become very collectible and valuable – included is a price guide.

Votes For Women - Rose O'Neill Woman Suffrage Kewpie Postcard The Spirit of 76
Votes For Women – Rose O’Neill Woman Suffrage Kewpie Postcard The Spirit of 76. This example sold for $99.99 on eBay, December 2023.

At the heart of O’Neill’s activism was her unwavering belief in equality and her desire to use her considerable influence for the advancement of the suffrage cause. The early 20th century, a pivotal era for the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, saw O’Neill leveraging the widespread appeal of her Kewpie characters to champion the right to vote for women. Through her illustrations, which were widely published and beloved, O’Neill presented the Kewpies as advocates for change, endearing symbols of the suffrage movement that conveyed a powerful message through their innocence and charm.

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O’Neill’s work went beyond mere entertainment; it was a strategic and heartfelt contribution to a cause she deeply believed in. Her Kewpie-themed suffrage postcards and magazine illustrations served not only to raise awareness but also to normalize the idea of women as equals in the political arena. These pieces of art, infused with humor and a touch of whimsy, made the concept of women’s voting rights more accessible and palatable to a broader audience, effectively disarming opponents and mobilizing support.

Votes For Women Do I Get Your Vote divided back postcard – The postcard is a part of the era of divided back, manufactured between 1907-1915 in the United States. This example sold for $24.95 on eBay, January 2024.

Moreover, O’Neill’s involvement with the suffrage movement reflected a broader trend of women using their artistic talents as a form of political expression and activism. By integrating her Kewpies into the narrative of social change, O’Neill demonstrated the potent role that art can play in shaping public opinion and advancing societal reforms.

Votes For Our Mothers Women Right To Vote Kewpies Suffragette Postcard
Votes For Our Mothers Women Right To Vote Kewpies Suffragette Postcard. Copies of several of the key postcards are available. Such as this.

As we reflect on the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement and the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment, it is essential to recognize the contributions of individuals like Rose O’Neill. Her innovative use of art as advocacy not only highlighted the interconnectedness of culture and politics but also underscored the impact of creativity in the pursuit of justice and equality. Through her Kewpies, O’Neill left an indelible mark on the suffrage movement, proving that art can indeed be a powerful ally in the fight for women’s rights.

Related
Rose O’Neill: Artist, Suffragist, & Queen of the Kewpies
A Brief History of Kewpie Dolls


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