Suffrage Saturday: “Votes for Women” Pin

Votes for Women NAWSA Celluloid Pin, early 1900s. Bastian Bros. Co., Rochester, NY.
Votes for Women NAWSA Celluloid Pin, early 1900s. Bastian Bros. Co., Rochester, NY.

Today is an apt day to begin exploring the topic of women’s suffrage on the blog: 137 years ago today, on 10 January 1878, what became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was introduced to Congress. It was the first legal step to enfranchising over 50% of the population, but took 72 years before passage in Congress and ratification by 36 states.

On 26 August 1920, the ratification was certified- our female ancestors finally had the right to vote in all elections throughout the United States of America.

It is a simple, short amendment:

Amendment XIX

1) The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

2) Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


Getting to this point, however, was not simple, nor was it short. The beginning of the national movement for women’s rights, including the right to vote, began long before the amendment was introduced at our nation’s Capitol. The Seneca Falls Convention in July, 1848 discussed the “…social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” Sadly, none of the original activists of that time period, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony, lived to see the fruits of their labors, nor ever legally cast their vote in an election.

Women- and men too- worked diligently through the years after 1848 to educate the public, Congress, and even the President of the United States that women should have the right to vote. Their work left us letters and banners, ribbons and buttons, and a wide variety of artifacts that were used to promote their political agenda. I would like to share some of these artifacts  through this blog topic.

None of these items have been passed down in our family that I know of, but our ancestors had to be aware of the women’s suffrage movement- I wonder which side they were on?

“Votes for Women Pinback”

This pin was commissioned by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in the early 1900s to stimulate interest in the cause and start what we now would call, “a national conversation.” We know that this design was in use by at least 1912, when Rosalie Livingston Jonas campaigned for women’s rights across Nassau County, New York with a pony and cart. She sold these buttons, suffrage literature, cake, and tea, and was accompanied by Elizabeth Freeman, an American who had been jailed with British women protesting for the vote in London.

These simple black-on-gold buttons were given out or sold for a penny (or sometimes a nickel) to help fund the movement across New York and other states. Lapel pins were definitely effective in promoting their message- in 1917 women in New York gained the right to vote in state elections after one million of these buttons were handed out. (Of course, it took a lot more than just a button…)

Votes for Women NAWSA Celluloid Pin, early 1900s, reverse. Bastian Bros. Co., Rochester, NY.
Votes for Women NAWSA Celluloid Pin, early 1900s, reverse. Bastian Bros. Co., Rochester, NY.

Bastian Brothers Company in Rochester, New York manufactured this particular pin; Whitehead and Hoag were the other manufacturers commissioned by the NAWSA. Additionally, local companies may have produced similar pins for other groups, and sometimes the groups had the paper on the reverse printed with their name.

This pin is only about 5/8″ in diameter and made from celluloid, a ‘new’ material first used for political campaign buttons in 1876. The image was printed on the celluloid initially, but it proved too brittle to be useful. The process was perfected 15-20 years later when the image was printed on paper, covered with celluloid, and the button attached  to a metal support with pin. Millions of political campaign, advertising, and other pins were made with this process for many years, as it produced colorful and inexpensive  buttons.

Buttons like this, or ones similar, were probably worn by our ancestor Edward B. Payne and his second wife Ninetta Wiley Eames Payne. They both worked for the women’s suffrage movement in California, especially around 1896. California’s women lost that referendum, but the suffrage bill was passed in 1911, making California the sixth and largest state to give women the right to vote. A little gold button was probably a part of that success.


Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) “Our Documents- 19th Amendment to the Constitution:”

2) Remember ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and “How a Bill Becomes a Law”?  See and “The Constitution” at Passing and ratifying an amendment to our Constitution is a bit more complicated, but these videos are a fun blast from the past.

3) See also my post “The Anniversary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Birth” at

4) “The Seneca Falls Convention” on the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian website:

5) The Bastian Brothers Company began in 1895 and is still in business today making advertising novelties. See their website at

6) Kenneth Florey, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: an illustrated historical study. (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013) 31-34.


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