Digital Exhibit

Female Representation in Political Pins and collectables, 1964-2016 for the Browne Popular Culture library, Bowling Green State University


This digital exhibit was prepared for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote (1920) and features items in the Browne Popular Culture Library's collection relating to women in the political spotlight and explores the themes of First Ladies, FLOTUS Hopefuls, First Families, Women Political Candidates, and Appeals for the Female vote, and covers 52 years of presidential campaigns.



The Bernard L. Karr Political Pinback Button Collection in the Brown Popular Culture Library has over 1200 buttons that spans 40 years from 1976 to 2016 covering a wide range of presidential campaigns, including every major Republican and Democratic presidential candidate from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump. Together with other collections, this exhibit cover 52 years of Presidential campaigns.

The representation of women takes many forms in political campaigns. The major themes covered here include representations of First Ladies, FLOTUS Hopefuls, First Families, Women Political Candidates, and Appeals for the Female vote.

About the donor: Bernard L. Karr is an Estate Lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio, an alumni of Bowling Green State University, and a board member at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

First Ladies

For spouses and family members of those campaigning for the top political office in the United States it can often seem like the families themselves are running for office. Although an official title today, the term 'First Lady' did not gain prominence until the mid-19th century, earlier titles included Mrs. President, Presidentress, or simply Lady. 

The earliest pins depicting First Ladies in our collection include an oval portrait with an ornate frame design and a handmade felt likeness of Rosalynn Carter with a button face, and election style campaign pins for First Ladies, which is the most common theme with incumbent spouses as seen here with pins for Carter, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, hopeful Kitty Dukakis, and Michelle Obama. 

The role of First Lady can seem like an elected office with spouses of Presidential nominees often joining on the campaign trail, as seen on this 1980 campaign button of Ronald and Nancy Reagan behind the slogan "Let's Make America Great Again." Once a U.S. President has been elected, each First Lady is given a staff and an office in the White House.

The "Make America Great Again" slogan has been used in politics as far back as 1940 and in U.S. Presidential campaigns since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Other notable uses include Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, and both Donald Trump campaigns in 2016 and 2020. 


Depictions of presidential candidates and their spouses could almost be mistaken as campaign pins of President and Vice-Presidential candidates. With slogans such as 'Victory' and 'People First,' Presidents and their spouses are seen here as teams, and it isn't until the 1996 election campaign that we start to see a major shift towards an emphasis toward First 'Families.' 


Even the children of those running for the highest office in the United States are thrust into the spotlight. The 2004 campaign button in the top left shows incumbent George W. Bush with wife Laura and fraternal twins Barbara and Jenna. 

The top right button from the 2000 campaign has Vice President Al Gore's eldest daughter, Karenna, pictured with the slogan "Youth for Gore" and "Karenna Rocks!" Karenna Gore was the Youth Outreach Chair for her father's Presidential Campaign, and with actor (and former Harvard roommate of Al Gore) Tommy Lee Jones, she officially nominated her father as Democratic candidate at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

Also pictured on the bottom row are President Barack Obama's two daughters, Malia and Sasha, in the bottom right with parents Barack and Michelle during the 2008 campaign, and again in the 2012 campaign with the slogan "Re-elect our Daddy Barack Obama."

Even the pets First Families gain celebrity status. This 2013 inaugural button welcomes Bo, the Obama's Portuguese Water Dog, into a second term as First Dog. Later in 2013 the Obamas welcomed a second dog into the First Family, Sunny, a female Portuguese Water Dog. 

Negative Campaign Buttons

Negative buttons attacking first ladies are also represented through the entirety of our political button collection. The 1996 "LET US KICK THEIR ASSES OUT" button depicting the Clintons and Al Gore as donkeys being kicked off the White House lawn by an elephant uses similar wording as the 1980 "Lets Kick the Carters out of the White House!!!" button. This 1992 button showing a cartoon George H. W. Bush telling his wife that he shrunk the economy spoofs the 1989 Disney blockbuster film Honey I Shrunk the Kids

The Clintons are mocked as airbags in one button and lampooned in another over a failed business venture and subsequent scandal over an investigation into the Whitewater Development Corporation, which the Clintons were investors. Although the Clintons were never prosecuted, Jim Guy Tucker, Bill Clinton's successor as Arkansas governor, was convicted of fraud and Susan McDougal served 18 months in prison but was granted a pardon by President Clinton before he left office. 

These 1996 buttons, well before his affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light in 1998, paint presidential incumbent Bill Clinton as a womanizer. At the time Clinton was in the middle of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Arkansas civil servant Paula Jones.  Clinton later settled the case by paying Jones and her lawyers $850,000.

Surviving two terms as 1st lady (1993-2001), two presidential campaigns (2008 and 2016), two terms as a U.S. senator (New York, 2001-2009), as well as the 67th U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013), Hillary Clinton has acquired an assortment of negative campaign buttons including the "Movin' to New York to Vote Against Hillary!" button from 2000 during her campaign for U.S. Senate, the "Monica Lewinski's Ex-Boyfriend's Wife for President" button from 2008, and the "Defeat Hillary" and "Hillary for Prison" buttons from 2016.


This button manufacturer, JGR Designs, is an equal opportunist having created nearly identical campaign buttons for the 2016 presidential race, one showing Hilary Clinton being eclipsed by Donald Trump, and the other being the opposite.


This button showing Walter "Fritz" Mondale and Dolly Parton seems to be in response to a National Federation of Republican Women luncheon that was held on August 23rd, 1984. Guest speaker Joan Rivers joked about Ronald Reagan's opponent, Mondale, having a female running mate by saying "Geraldine Ferraro. Big Deal. Let's put a woman in the White House. May I just tell you something?" In front of 2,000 guests including Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, Rivers joked that Dolly Parton should be his running mate, "You could call them Fritz and Tits because then there'd be three boobs in the White House," she said to applause.


This positive campaign pin for Lady Bird Johnson from 1964 seems to be a response to an incident that occurred when First Lady Johnson embarked on a four-day, 1,628-mile campaign trip to speak on behalf of her husband through eight southern states aboard a train dubbed the Lady Bird Special. As Lyndon B. Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act into law there was some resistance to Lady Bird's arrival. In Richmond, Va., Lady Bird was greeted by a banner that read "Fly Away Lady Bird.." taken from the children's nursery rhyme Ladybird Ladybird!

It Takes A Family

Hillary Clinton is once again the subject of ridicule in this 1996 button in relation to her recently published book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, which emphasizes the shared responsibility that society has for raising children.  During the 1996 Republican National Convention the Republican Party nominee Bob Dole said "I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child." It is during this time that we start to see a focus away from spouse to family. 

As the first presidential election after Bill Clinton's highly publicized 1998 sex scandal with Monica Lewinski and the 1999 impeachment trial, the 2000 presidential election saw a rise in the family values theme. While these Democratic party pins for Al Gore carry over earlier notions of candidate and spouse as a team, Republican candidate buttons from this time push candidate and spouse as exemplars of family values.

These two George W. and Laura Bush campaign buttons have similar imaging to the Gore buttons, but with a noticeably different theme with the slogan "Finally a First Family America Can Be Proud Of" from 2000 and "Re-Elect Our First Family" from 2004.

These two republican pins go even further with the theme of family. The image on the left is a button from 2000 showing the extended Bush family, and the image on the right from 2004 shows incumbent President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and their spouses with the slogan "The First Family Renewing America's Purpose"

Rosie the Riveter

During World War II, when women joined the manual labor workforce en masse, an allegory arose of the patriotic hard working female factory worker named Rosie the Riveter and the icon was embedded in songs, print, and film. The iconic painting by J. Howard Miller was used heavily in campaign pins through the 1992 and 1996 Bill Clinton campaigns and again with Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016. J. Howard Miller's 'We Can Do It' poster image was produced in 1942 and displayed in Westinghouse production locations in February of 1943, and only became widely associated with the Rosie the Riveter allegory decades later.

Opposite to some of the Republican party pins in our collection that paint Bill Clinton as a womanizer, this 1992 Clinton/Gore pin displays the slogan "We Can Do it!" asking America's female voting population for support.

This 1996 Clinton/Gore pin is nearly identical to the 1992 pin but replaces the slogan "We Can Do it!" with "WOMEN UNITED." 

Norman Rockwell's May, 29th, 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post of Rosie the Riveter is used here in the 1996 Clinton/Gore pin again appealing to women by assigning the 1992 victory to the female voter.

This button for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign reprises the J. Howard Miller 'We Can Do It' image with the variant slogan "TOGETHER, WE CAN DO IT!" 


The iconic Miller image was used heavily in Hillary Clinton's 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns as was the emphasis of mobilizing the female vote. This 2008 pin uses Miller's image with the augmented "Hillary Can Do It in 2008" slogan and going a step further in 2016 with replacing the face of Miller's painting with that of Hillary Clinton. 


Appeals to the Female Voter


The appeal to the female voter takes on many forms in our collection including straight forward slogans such as this "Women for Romney" button from 2012, to more playful appeals such as this "Chicks dig John Kerry" button from 2004, buttons embedded with images of women such as this "You Bet Your Rump I'm Voting for Trump” button from 2016, and buttons appealing to patriotic duty.  The sash worn by the image of a suffragette in this 1996 Bob Dole campaign button states "Spirit of 76 years" alluding to both the patriotic sentiment towards the declaration of Independence in 1776 as well as the 76 years since women in the U.S. had been given the right to vote in 1920.


The straight forward approach is one of the most common buttons appealing to women, such as this 1976 "Republican Women for Reagan" heart-shaped button (top center). Of the "Women for Reagan" buttons in our collection the majority are from 1984 presumably to persuade female voters away from opponents Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro (pictured bottom center), the first female vice-presidential nominee representing a major American political party.  


Among various forms of female iconography in our George W. Bush campaign button collection are images of suffragettes, personifications of Liberty, and the more whimsical "divas for bush" button. 


For the 2000 presidential election we see similar iconography with the Gore/Lieberman campaign as with the Bush/Cheney Campaign, with various incarnations of Liberty, and an image of a suffragette on the "Florida Women for Gore" button with the "80 years with the vote" subtext. 


We see this pattern continue during Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, with images of Liberty and a suffragette and a whimsical "Hot Chicks for Obama" button with an image of Mona Lisa. 


Female Candidates


Geraldine "Gerry" Ferraro ran as vice presidential nominee alongside former vice president Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential race making her the first female vice presidential nominee representing a major American political party. Ferraro also served in the United States House of Representatives from 1979 to 1985.


In our collection we have buttons from two female communist politicians from the Socialist Workers Party. Willie Mae Reid ran as vice presidential nominee on the Socialist Party ticket in 1976 (the campaign button is pictured on the right) with Presidential candidate Peter Camejo, and again in 1992 with James Warren. 

Pictured on the left is a campaign button from the 2000 Socialist Workers Party campaign with Margaret Trowe running for vice president and James Harris as her running mate.

The 2000 presidential campaign was an active year for third parties. In our collection we have two buttons (top row) from Reform Party ticket with Pat Buchanan running for president and conservative political activist Ezola B. Foster running as vice president. 

On the bottom row we have a button from the Green Party campaign with Winona Laduke, enrolled member of the Ojibwe Nation, running for vice president alongside Ralph Nader. In 2016 Laduke received one electoral vote for vice president, making her the first person in the Green Party ever to do so. She was not the first person of significant Native American ancestry to receive an electoral vote, which was Charles Curtis, member of the Kaw Nation, who was vice president of the United States between March 4, 1929 and March 4, 1933. 

In 2008, running alongside Arizona Senator John McCain, sitting governor of Alaska (from 2006 until her resignation in 2009) Sarah Palin was the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States and second female vice presidential nominee of a major party (after Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984). Some of the slogans from the campaign buttons include "You Go Girl!" (top right), "Go Sarah Go!" (bottom center), and "Sarah-liscious!" (bottom left).

Former First Lady Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008 and again in 2016. The second time becoming the first woman to be nominated for president of the United States by a major political party, the Democratic Party, but she eventually lost to Republican nominee Donald Trump.

These campaign buttons from her presidential campaign in 2008 (in which she was defeated by eventual Democratic winner Barack Obama) show a gamut of styles from the standard "Hillary Clinton President '08" (bottom right) and "America's First Couple" (bottom left) with Bill Clinton in the traditional spouse's 'supportive' position standing behind the candidate, to the more whimsical "Dawn of a New Day" (top center) with rainbow, and "Hippies for Hillary" (top right). 

In 2016 Carly Fiorina, first woman to lead a Top-20 company (as ranked by Fortune Magazine), ran for President in the Republican primary but suspended her campaign in mid-February. Shortly afterward she joined the campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz as his vice presidential running mate, but he suspended his campaign six days later, making her vice-presidential candidacy the shortest in modern American history.


Also in our collection are campaign buttons of hopeful presidential campaign tickets that never came to be. In top right we have a button for George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole. Dole had run for the Republican Presidential candidacy in 1999 but pulled out due to funding concerns despite polling well against opponents George W. Bush and Steve Forbes.  Shortly before the 2000 Republican National Convention it was reported that Dole was on George W. Bush's short list for running mate. The list of potential candidates was created by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, but Bush ended up passing up Dole picking Cheney as his Vice-Presidential running mate.

In early 2007 media mogul and beloved talk show host Oprah Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama ahead of his 2008 Presidential campaign. By December she made her first campaign appearances with him causing some to think she would be named his vice presidential nominee, as suggested in this campaign button (bottom left). By mid 2008 it became clear that Hillary Clinton would not clinch the Democratic nomination for president and speculation grew that Clinton might be named as vice presidential nominee (center right). The nomination was given to sitting United States Senator from Delaware Joe Biden.    


The Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University is home to a large assortment of collectables pertaining to U.S. presidential campaigns including these masks of President Ronald Reagan (Left) and 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (Right).

The 2008 presidential campaign saw a multitude of collectables related to democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama including these wrist watches from the WWW.TimeForAChange.CC website.

These collectables were created by Jailbreak Toys (the Clinton collectable was created in conjunction with the Brooklyn, New York, company FCTRY). The Barack Obama action figure (right) was created in 2007 with the slogan "An Action Figure We Can Believe In." Hillary Clinton's figure (left) was created in 2015 with the slogan "Ready-For-Action Figure." 

These 'Obama Presidential Playing Cards' created by for the 2008 presidential election reflect the early endorsement by Oprah Winfrey as well portraying Republican presidential hopeful John McCain and sitting U.S. president George W. Bush as Jokers.

No comments:

Post a Comment