The image on this tea towel was intended by its original publishers in the early 20th century to rubbish the cause of women’s suffrage. It shows a cat wearing the Suffragette colours of purple, white and green. It was thought that portraying a campaigner as a cat would show the idea of women voting to be equally absurd: the cat was seen as passive, feminine and ineffectual.
There may also have been an oblique reference to the UK’s so-called Cat-and-Mouse Act of 1913, which permitted women’s suffrage hunger strikers to be released from prison in order to recover before being re-arrested and continue serving their sentence (likening the legislation to the way a cat plays with a mouse).
Some anti-suffrage cartoons portrayed men at home doing household chores with a cat present, intended to suggest that the absence of his campaigning wife meant that the man was not free to do useful work outside of the house. By the same token, dogs were sometimes depicted in order to represent men, both seen as more physically active.
So did the anti-suffrage advertising work? Women in the UK finally gained the vote on the same terms as men over the age of 21 in the 1928 Representation of the People Act. Nowadays cats are admired by both men and women for their strength and resilience. So it looks as though the tactic might have back-fired!
The image on this tea towel is based on a postcard from c.1908. Postcards were used both by suffrage campaigners and their detractors in support of their cause.