“This is the Most Magnificent Movement of All"

January 3, 1874

Thomas Nast

“This is the Most Magnificent Movement of All"

Wars, American War of Independence; Women, Women’s Rights;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

"The New England Woman's Tea Party, believing that 'Taxation without Representation is Tyranny,' and that our Forefathers were justified in resisting Despotic Power by throwing the Tea into Boston Harbor," hereby do the Same.

In this 1874 Harper’s Weekly cartoon, artist Thomas Nast employs a parody of the Boston Tea Party to satirize the women’s suffrage movement and its claim to the same rights for which the American revolutionaries fought a century before.

Lucy Stone, a leading nineteenth-century women’s rights advocate, organized a centennial observance of the Boston Tea Party, on December 15, 1873, in order to promote the issue of women’s voting rights. As the celebration’s site, she chose Boston’s Faneuil Hall, which was nicknamed “the cradle of liberty” for its role as a favored meeting house of America’s revolutionary leaders. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a well-known essayist, historian, and Unitarian minister, presided at the event.

Despite the laudatory caption of this cartoon, the artist’s sentiments toward the suffragists is sarcastic. He pictures two people pouring tea into Boston Harbor. The figure on the right, who resembles Susan B. Anthony, is stern-faced, and wears a muffler to protect herself from the cold. She dispenses the liquid from a dainty teapot, as if she were hosting a tea party in her home.

The background figure on the left is probably a man dressed as a woman; note the combination of a mustache and sideburns with a hair net and bonnet. The rowboat’s name, Mayflower, associates the cartoon’s crew with the early English settlers of Massachusetts, yet reinforces the feminine nature of their undertaking. The caricature presents an effete mimicry of the original event, during which male revolutionaries donned Native American costumes to hoist weighty crates of tea into the bay.

In the February 7 issue of Harper’s Weekly, editor George William Curtis, a vocal supporter of women’s rights, took a different view. As Lucy Stone had done, Curtis linked the plight of American women of the 1870s with the situation of American revolutionaries of the 1770s. Both instances, Curtis argued, involve the tyranny of taxation without representation, a phrase Nast includes in his lighthearted look at women’s rights.

Harper’s Weekly also reported in January 1874 that Boston voters elected four women to positions on the city’s public school board. The other (male) board members, however, announced they would wait for the Massachusetts Supreme Court to decide the legality of the women’s election before seating them. In February, the court ruled that state law did allow women to fill any local office of an administrative character. On the other hand, a bill in the state senate to allow women to vote in school board elections was defeated that spring. Thus, the women could sit on Boston’s school board, but no woman could vote for them.

In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of states to deny women the right to vote. Gradually, a few states or territories, particularly in the West, granted women’s suffrage, but it was not until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in August 1920 that the right of all American women to vote was recognized.

Robert C. Kennedy

“This is the Most Magnificent Movement of All"
December 9, 2022

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