These satirical postcards use the popular nursery rhyme ‘This is the House that Jack Built’ to make two contrasting arguments about women’s suffrage. Interestingly, they were published within the same year and by the same publisher. Four of these postcards are collected together in this volume; the first three are from a set of six anti-suffrage postcards, while the fourth is from a set of six pro-suffrage postcards.
Both sets of cards change the nursery rhyme verse to ‘This is the House that Man Built’. In three of the postcards, the ‘house’ refers to the British Houses of Parliament. In one of the anti-suffrage postcards, the ‘house’ refers to Holloway Prison, where many of the suffragettes were imprisoned:
And this is the home of the poor Suffragette,
And there’s room for a great many more in it yet;
When they racket and riot And will not keep quiet,
We place them on plank beds and very low diet
In contrast to the unflattering caricatures of the anti-suffrage set, the single pro-suffrage postcard adopts a naturalistic illustration style. This particular example shows men and women sitting side-by-side in the House of Commons, depicting the women as upstanding counterparts to the male Members of Parliament. It is accompanied by the verse:
But oh what a wonderful change inside
The women as well as the men preside
They both hold the reins & no one complains
For the men now admit that the ladies have brains
What was the political context of the postcards?
Created around 1910, the postcards were in circulation during a time of great turmoil for the suffrage campaign. With the failure of suffrage bills every year between 1906 and 1913, women felt increasingly let down by the Liberal government. By 1910, the suffragettes saw the government as openly hostile to votes for women. In response to the failure of the first Conciliation Bill, on 18 November 1910 around 300 suffragettes marched to the House of Commons to protest. On attempting to enter Parliament the women were treated with extreme physical brutality by the police and, in some cases, were sexually assaulted. This notorious event became known as Black Friday.
‘The House that Jack Built’ nursery rhyme has been used by a number of political satirists, including William Hone whose radical pamphlet, The Political House That Jack Built, was published in the year of the Peterloo Massacre (1819). Vividly illustrated by caricaturist George Cruikshank, it satirises lawyers, the church, the monarchy and the army, and on the front page proposes that writing is more powerful than force.