Djuna Barnes and the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Djuna Barnes and the Women's Suffrage Movement
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While Djuna Barnes is most known for her fiction writing, she also had significant ties to the women’s suffrage movement. Djuna’s connection to the women’s suffrage movement started at a young age. Djuna’s grandmother, Zadel Gustafson Barnes, was a writer, journalist, and poet. Zadel wrote profiles of well-known suffragists such as Frances E. Willard and participated in the National Woman Suffrage Association’s International Council of Women. Zadel was also active in the temperance movement, which was closely tied to the women’s suffrage movement.

Despite Djuna’s familial connection to the women’s suffrage movement, she had no qualms about occasionally mocking it. In an August 1913 article Djuna portrays the suffragists as making ridiculous statements such as “cleanliness is next to women suffrage.” These depictions portray suffragists as foolish caricatures. Djuna continues this approach in her 1913 article, “70 Suffragists Turned Loose.” Djuna engages with negative stereotypes of suffragists, such as portraying them as figures who emasculate and intimidate men. However, some of Djuna’s criticism is about the perceived conservatism of some suffrage leaders such as Carrie Chapman Catt. Djuna portrays Chapman Catt as admonishing aspiring suffragists for the length of their dresses and preparing them for speeches in front of audiences from “the factory world.” Djuna criticizes Chapman Catt’s focus on respectability politics and her classism, showing a willingness to engage in more nuanced critiques of the suffrage movement.

Djuna also wrote pieces on suffrage that were primarily positive, such as her 1914 article in New York World MagazineHow It Feels To Be Forcibly Fed.” In this article Djuna agreed to be force-fed, which was a common ordeal for hunger striking suffragists. Barnes describes the agonizing feeling of force feeding while speaking admiringly of the suffragists who had undergone the same procedure.

If you are interested in learning more about Djuna and Zadel check out our finding aids for the Djuna Barnes papers and the Barnes Family papers! If you have more questions about items related to suffrage in Hornbake’s collections contact us!

Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

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