“The Age of Iron” was published by the New York printing firm of Currier and Ives in 1869. It satirized the woman suffrage movement that was gaining widespread support in America during that time.
The woman suffrage movement took root in 1848 at the first women's rights convention, which was held in Seneca Falls, New York, with the participants calling for political equality and the right to vote. As the movement gained more support throughout the country, it also brought about a great deal of public scrutiny. Many people, including some women, questioned how women would be able to complete their domestic duties in the private sphere while also participating in activities outside the home in the public sphere. Since colonial times in America, women had been classified as a dependent class under the responsibility of their fathers or husbands. In Virginia, for example, married women had no right to manage property that they owned until 1877.
Political cartoons were often used as a medium for expressing opinions and concerns. The message of “The Age of Iron: Man as He Expects to Be” illustrates the fears of some people that society would suffer if women gained the right to vote and participated in politics—that their behavior would change and they would leave their domestic duties behind.
“The Age of Iron” depicts two men, one sewing and the other doing laundry. At the same time a woman is shown leaving the house and approaching a carriage driven by another woman, with a third woman in the back. Not only does this speak to the fear among men that they would have to take care of domestic duties while women left the home, it also shows the concern that male servants would be replaced by women. Many men feared that their own status could change dramatically if women successfully challenged the idea of private and public spheres and gained political equality.
Citation: “The Age of Iron: Man As He Expects to Be.” lithograph. [New York]: Currier & Ives, 1869. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
Look at It: Look at the depiction of the men and women in this lithographic image. How are women represented? Why do you think that the women are shown in this way?
Analyze: Read the caption under the image. What does it suggest about the ideologies of those opposed to the suffrage movement? How might women who supported the suffrage movement feel about this description?
Current Connections: Think about your own home and those of older generations. Are some things still considered “women’s work” and “men’s work”? For example, who is responsible for the cooking/laundry/yard work? Who is called first when a child is injured? How might culture play a role in the roles of men and women?
Artistic Exploration: Draw a version of this lithograph for today. In your drawing, show men in what might be considered traditional women’s roles. Write a caption which describes how society may view your image.