Red Lipstick and Suffragists’ fight for a Woman’s Right to Vote

suffragist women voting

Red Lipstick is a bold makeup statement, so of course suffragist women of the early 1900s wore it as a symbol of their intelligence and independence in the fight for all women of the United States to have the right to vote.

Women’s suffrage was a hot issue in the early 1900s. In 1912, 500,000 people watched as 20,000 women marched the streets of New York City for the right to vote. Women were imprisoned and suffered awful treatment in jail for protesting for the right to vote.

women in 1910s protesting for the suffragist right to vote
Section of Working Women’s Picket Feb. 1917

The 19th Amendment gives all women in the United States the right to vote

Before the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, there were a few pockets of women in the United States who had been given the right to vote in their own states, but it was not yet a country wide constitutional right.

The full rights would finally come for women in the United States on August 18th, 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. It said that no one could be denied the right to vote based on their sex. This week, we mark the 100th anniversary of that constitutional amendment.

Black Suffragist Nannie Burroughs and women protestors
Suffragist Nannie Burroughs (left) and activists

What does red lipstick have to do with suffrage and a woman’s right to vote?

During the last few years of the suffrage movement, red lipstick was gaining some ground as an acceptable makeup item to wear. In years prior, red lipstick was something that only women on stage in the theater and prostitutes wore.

Suffragist Burnita Shelton Matthews with finger waves and lipstick
Suffragist Burnita Shelton Matthews

Some of the women protesting wore red lipstick as the defiant symbol of their right to make choices as women.1 Lipstick was still not a widely accepted makeup product, but it was making its way into the hands of many fashionable women. 

Suffragist Komako Kimura standing in front of men to protest for the right to vote
Komako Kimura – Japanese actress and suffragist

Makeup marketing to suffragist women

Elizabeth Arden saw that lipstick was becoming more acceptable among the fashionable elite of New York and knew she was watching the beginning of a makeup movement. She joined the demonstrations, among many other high society women, and even used the rights of women as advertising copy in her company’s makeup advertisements.

Actress Madame Alla Nazimova standing with a suffragist flag
Madame Alla Nazimova – Russian-american actress and suffragist

There are stories that Arden handed out lipstick at the demonstration in 1912, but there is no real evidence of it. She honestly, at that time, was only selling some face powders and rouge in her beauty line. She did not have lipstick as a product until closer to the mid-nineteen-teens. Lucy Jane Santos wrote a great article about Elizabeth Arden and red listick on her blog which you can read here.

Also check out, 1. The Powder & the Glory – Based on British author Lindy Woodheads bestselling book War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden, their lives, their times and their rivalry, this film focuses on two women from meager means who immigrated to the US nearly a hundred years ago, reinvented themselves and ultimately created the cosmetics, health, and beauty industry we know today.

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Welcome to the Bobby Pin Blog! I am Lauren Rennells and as a hairstylist, makeup artist, writer, and generally artistic over-achiever, the Bobby Pin Blog is my outlet for thoughts and research about vintage hair and makeup trends and how to recreate them today. Thank you for stopping by!

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