By Ashley Nicole Owens and Miranda Pikaart, undergraduates, Meredith College
Nina Allender was born in Auburn, Kansas in 1872 to David Evans, who moved to Kansas to be the Superintendent of Schools, and Eva Evans, who worked as a prairie school teacher. In 1881, Nina’s mother divorced her father and became a government worker for the Department of the Interior. Young Nina and her mother moved in with her aunt Kate. Nina studied painting as a girl and went on to attend the Corcoran School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She married Charles Allender in 1893. Charles Allender accepted a banking position arranged by Nina’s family, but early in their marriage Charles fled for England with a large sum of money to avoid a prison sentence for embezzlement and forgery. Nina kept the Allender name and took a job with the U.S Treasury Department.
Even though she worked full time Allender became actively involved in the suffrage movement in 1912. She was the president of the Stanton Suffrage Club in D.C. and served in the National Woman’s Party by traveling to Wyoming to help with the campaign there. She also assisted in creating advertisements for parades and lectures.
Allender’s primary contribution to the suffrage campaign was as the main cartoonist for The Suffragist. With this work, she helped reshape the topics that women cartoonists could take on. The majority of women cartoonists had been limited to “womanly subjects” of children and family life rather than political commentary. Many women in the field were also limited to coloring in designs created by men.
Suffragists drawn by male cartoonists for newspapers and magazines were depicted as austere, manly, or haggard troublemakers. Allender transformed the negative image of suffragists into attractive yet serious and determined young women dedicated to winning the vote. This new image was often called the “Allender girl.” Nina did not shy away from political subjects at all; her main characters were the Democratic Donkey, Congress, Woodrow Wilson and Uncle Sam. She often used the president’s own words in her messages for woman’s suffrage, a strategy used by the National Woman’s Party. Nina Allender’s cartoons represented women in a positive manner, as capable of rational political thought. Members of the NWP were convinced that the cartoons were influential and persuasive in ways words and arguments were not, and they often featured her work on the cover of The Suffragist.
Allender continued to work for women’s rights after the 19th Amendment was passed. She was involved in the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment and served on its National Council until 1946, when she resigned for health reasons. Allender also founded the Arts Club of Washington and her cartoons for The Suffragist and Equal Rights magazine are on permanent display in the Library of Congress. Nina Allender died on April 2, 1957 in Plainfield, New Jersey.
Inez Haynes Irwin wrote, in regard to Nina Allender’s drawings, “Her [Allender's] work is full of the intimate everyday details of the woman's life from her little girlhood to her old age. And she translates that existence with a woman's vivacity and a woman's sense of humor. ... It would be impossible for any man to have done Mrs. Allender's work. A woman speaking to women, about women, in the language of women.”
Information about Nina Allender’s life and her involvement in the woman’s suffrage movement can be found in Alice Sheppard’s book Cartooning for Suffrage published in 1994 and her article “Political and Social Consciousness in the Woman Suffrage Cartoons of Lou Rogers and Nina Allender,” Studies in American Humor 4 (1/2): 39-50. See also obituaries written for Nina Allender in the New York Times, Washington Post and Plainfield Courier-News. "Mrs. Allender, Artist, Dies". Plainfield Courier-News. April 3, 1957. Obituaries: “Nina E. Allender," The Washington Post (Washington D.C.). April 6, 1957. "Mrs. Nina Evans Allender". New York Times. April 3, 1957. The National Woman’s Party online also provides a biography of Allender at http://nationalwomansparty.org/womenwecelebrate/nina-allender/. The Library of Congress has photographs of Nina Allender and her work available through its Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Listen to a profile of Nina Allender, with a focus on the imagery in her cartoons for The Suffragist, through C-Span at https://www.c-span.org/video/?410486-1/political-cartoonist-nina-allender.
Closing quotation about Allender: Alice Sheppard, “Political and Social Consciousness in the Woman Suffrage Cartoons of Lou Rogers and Nina Allender,” Studies in American Humor 4 (1/2): 47.