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Cartoon Analysis: Elmer Andrews Bushnell, “The Sky Is Now Her Limit,” 1920

Use this primary source imagery to analyze major events in history.

Suggested Sequencing


In 1848, 100 men and women of the 300 attendees at the Seneca Falls Convention signed a document proclaiming certain truths to be self-evident: “that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . . ” The ninth resolution in this document, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, demanded the right to vote for women. However, it took another 72 years of determined struggle for the guarantee of women’s suffrage to be added to the U.S. Constitution with the Nineteenth Amendment, adopted on August 26, 1920. In her speech upon the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt stated: “The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guaranty of your liberty. That vote of yours has cost millions of dollars and the lives of thousands of women. . . Women have suffered agony of soul which you never can comprehend, that you and your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it! The vote is a power, a weapon of offense and defense, a prayer. . . Use it intelligently, conscientiously, prayerfully. Progress is calling to you to make no pause. Act!”

The artist whose work is depicted in Figure 1 is Elmer Andrews Bushnell. Bushnell maintained a long career as a newspaper cartoonist, working for the New York World, the New York Journal, and newspapers in several different cities in Ohio. His political cartoons were reputed to have helped bring down the Cincinnati political machine of George B. Cox. Study Bushnell’s work at the provided link to consider what he believed were the obstacles to women’s suffrage.

Sourcing Questions

  1. What major event does this cartoon commemorate?
  2. Note the title of the cartoon. If someone told the young woman shown at the bottom of the ladder that “The sky is now your limit,” how do you think she would have responded in 1920?

A woman carries two buckets on a yoke on her back and looks up a ladder. About halfway up the ladder is a rung that says “Equal Suffrage.” The rungs leading up to it say “Slavery, house drudgery, shop work, clerks, agents, maids; teacher, caretakers; bookkeeping, stenography; nurse, governess; private secretary; arts, crafts, science; business affairs; school affairs; church and charities; war workers; public office; government office; law, medicine.” The rungs after it read, “notary public, wage equality, political appointments, positions of trust, highest elective offices, executive, legislative, governorship and Congress; presidency.”

Figure 1 Newspaper cartoonist Elmer Andrews Bushnell published this cartoon, “Enfranchisement now means the sky’s the limit, in woman’s sphere” in 1920.

Comprehension Questions

Starting from the lowest rung, these are the steps on the ladder:

  1. [Lowest rung] Slavery
  2. House Drudgery
  3. Shop Work
  4. Clerks – Agents – Maids
  5. Teachers – Caretakers
  6. Bookkeeping – Stenography
  7. Nurse – Governess
  8. Private Secretary
  9. Arts – Crafts – Science
  10. Business Affairs
  11. School Affairs
  12. Church & Charities
  13. War Workers
  14. Public Office [election or appointment to public office]
  15. Government Office [election or appointment to government office]
  16. Law – Medicine
  17. Equal Suffrage
  18. Notary Public
  19. Wage Equality
  20. Political Appointment
  21. Positions of Trust
  22. Highest Elective Offices
  23. Executive
  24. Legislative
  25. Governorship & Congress
  26. [Highest rung] Presidency
  1. In the a–z list, which positions or causes had women achieved as of August 1920?
  2. What positions or causes have women achieved as of the present day?
  3. What do the yoke and buckets symbolize? Based on the young woman’s appearance and clothing in the political cartoon, what do you think are her chances of reaching the sky?
  4. Why do you think Bushnell showed the equal suffrage rung and the presidency rung as larger than the others?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. To what extent do you believe Bushnell was sympathetic to the cause of women’s suffrage? To women’s rights in general?
  2. What do you think is the tone of the cartoon’s title: hopeful, sarcastic, encouraging, something else?

“The Sky Is Now Her Limit”