Humor and Activism

Using Political Cartoons to Explore the Women's Suffrage Movement

Use political cartoons as a device to analyze and discuss the women’s suffrage movement


One to two class sessions

  • Students will define “activism” and relate it to the women’s suffrage movement

  • Students will analyze how and why opposition to women’s suffrage was revealed through the use of historical political cartoons.

  • Students will explore how humor and satire can be used to express a point of view and discuss how effective the technique is as a persuasive argument.

  • Students will present a contemporary political cartoon and analyze the point of view of the artist; is it a statement of support or opposition and why.



the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.


the right to vote in an election
universal suffrage [=the right of all adult citizens to vote in an election]

  • Ask your students what they believe “activism" means.

  • Discuss recent examples of activism for change. Ask students to identify and discuss at least two issues that have generated activism in some way. How are messages of protest or activism shared? Is there universal agreement?

  • Ask them to consider the fact that although the Constitution was ratified in 1787, women, by law, were not given the right to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

  • Analyzing Sources:

    • Discuss with your students the fact that cartoons and other satirical drawings have been used throughout American history to make political statements and express points of view. Due to the expense of wood block engraving necessary to reproduce such drawings in the 18th century, political cartoons were not commonly found in newspapers of the time. However, engravings highlighting issues and events of the period were popularly sold. The rise of political and satirical cartoons in the United States took place in the mid- late 19th century. Today, political cartoons and satire not only document issues and events, but also serve as important indicators of public opinion and editorial viewpoints.

  • Gathering Information:
    • Ask students to read the brief historical overview of the women’s suffrage movement included with the lesson plan and review the suffrage timeline.
    • If time allows, direct your students to the on-line exhibits on the suffrage movement to learn more about the movement and key historical figures:

Humor and Activism Worksheet (pg 6-7)

Historical Overview (pg 4-5)

Political Cartoons (click the link then search by "type"; select "primary source")

Pens/ Pencils

Optional: Colored pencils or pens/ markers


Working in pairs or small groups; give each pair or group a blank, uncaptioned version one of the political cartoons provided with the lesson plan materials.

After reading and discussing the background information, students will complete the Humor and Activism Worksheet asking them to identify at least three significant facts about the suffrage movement gleaned from the background reading.

After completing the worksheet and discussing suffrage with their partner(s), students will collaborate to brainstorm a caption for their cartoon based on their understanding of the the suffrage movement. Remind students that political cartoons should ideally use humor or satire to express a viewpoint.

Next, tell students that their cartoon will be part of an 2020 exhibit for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Ask students to work together to write a brief exhibit label (75-100 words) providing context for their cartoon and caption.

Have student groups present their cartoons, captions, and exhibit labels to the rest of the class. As a class, compare student cartoons: How do the captions differ? How are they similar?

Conclude with a class discussion:

  • In what ways do the cartoons reflect individuality on the part of the cartoonists?

  • How effective do students think political cartoons are in expressing viewpoints and conveying historical events and situations?

  • Do they think that the creators of the cartoons are activists? Why or why not.

Display the students' cartoons and captions in the classroom.

Assessment / Homework

Optional Extension Activities

  1. Students will be assigned the task of sharing a current political cartoon with the class. Over the course of a month, each student brings in a current political cartoon from a newspaper or on a news website on his or her assigned day. The student should be prepared to explain both the current event the cartoon addresses and the editorial viewpoint of the cartoon's creator. After each presentation, have students analyze and discuss if they think the cartoon clearly addresses the issue at hand. In what ways is the cartoon effective and ineffective, and why? Last, have the student presenter and other class volunteers talk about whether or not they share the artist's opinion, and why.

  2. Working with an art teacher, students will create a political cartoon that addresses either an historical or current political event or issue. Each student must provide a 50-100 word caption that concisely defines the issue selected.


C3: D1.5.9-12. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sourcesc3

C3 D2.Civ.2.6-8. Explain specific roles played by citizens (such as voters, jurors, taxpayers, members of the armed forces, petitioners, protesters, and office-holders).

C3 D2.Civ.2.9-12. Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present

C3 D2.Civ.14.6-8. Compare historical and contemporary means of changing societies, and promoting the common good.

C3 D2.Civ.14.9-12. Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.


the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.


NL-ENG.K-12.5COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.


Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.