Secondary Source

The Wisconsin Press and Woman Suffrage, 1911-1919: An Analysis of Factors Affecting Ten Diverse Newspapers

"The Wisconsin Press and Woman Suffrage, 1911-1919: An Analysis of Factors Affecting Ten Diverse Newspapers." Elizabeth V. Burt. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 3, Autumn 1996, pp. 620-624.

Era: Post-Suffrage Era | Media: Academic Paper, Newspapers

In this article, Elizabeth V. Burt describes a study in which she examined 10 Wisconsin newspapers’ coverage during six separate weeks in which important suffrage events took place. In particular, she examines various factors that might have influenced how the papers covered the movement for women’s suffrage, and whether it can be said that they manifested a sort of uniform “mainstream press” ideology.

The following article excerpt comes via Questia:

This study combines quantitative and qualitative methods in its analysis of ten Wisconsin newspapers during six week-long periods in which a significant woman suffrage event took place. It attempted to identify those factors that might have influenced individual newspapers’ coverage of the suffrage movement, including the personal positions of their publishers and editors, their political affiliations, the demographic characteristics of their readership area, circulation size, place of publication, and sources of the stories they published on suffrage. The study found that these examples of the “mainstream press,” far from representing a united ideological voice, represented a diversity of voices influenced, in part, by these factors.

Scholarship has often approached the American press as a monolithic institution. Content and qualitative analyses examining press coverage of specific events and issues often proceed from an unstated assumption that the press, often referred to as the “mainstream press” or the “general circulation press,” represents a united ideological voice in American society.

This author suggests that even after the rise of the mass circulation press in the 1890s, the American general circulation press was far from monolithic. Newspapers in the early decades of the twentieth century continued to reflect a wide range of political, geographic, economic, ethnic, professional, technological, and commercial characteristics. Likewise, newspaper publishers, editors, and reporters reflected a wide range of personal, political, and professional skills, motivations, and interests, which certainly influenced the way they pursued their profession. It might be concluded, therefore, that a particular newspaper’s coverage of issues or events would be affected by any of these factors and that the general circulation press, rather than representing a single monolithic bloc, could be expected to act as many voices.

This author tested this premise by studying the coverage of a particular issue—woman suffrage—by a score of general circulation newspapers, each representing widely different characteristics. This is an unusual approach in that content analyses typically focus on coverage of an event or issue by one particular news outlet, several examples of a single news medium, two or more different forms of the media, or examples of mainstream and alternative press.

In selecting newspapers for the study, the author proceeded from the hypothesis that factors such as demographic characteristics of the readership, political affiliation, geographic location and circulation size of the newspaper, and individual characteristics of newspaper editors and publishers would likely influence newspaper coverage of any issue. The central question to this study was, simply, “What factors might affect a newspaper’s coverage of woman suffrage?”


This study examined how the Wisconsin press covered the suffrage movement between 1911-1919—a period during which suffrage mobilization and legislative activity were at their peak—with the goal of identifying those factors that might have influenced that coverage. It was expected, for example, that newspapers with pro-suffrage editors or publishers would print pro-suffrage editorials and sympathetic news copy and vice versa. When political parties took positions for or against the reform, it was expected that newspapers affiliated with them would reflect their platform. Finally, newspapers published in communities with a large German ethnic population, with a strong membership in the Catholic and Lutheran churches, or with strong economic ties to the brewing industry—all groups vehemently opposed to the reform—were expected to reflect their anti-suffrage position.

This study also examined how a newspaper’s coverage might be related to its methods of gathering and producing news, which might be determined by the newspaper’s circulation size and its place of publication …

The article is also available online for payment or through your local library, with full access options, via Sage Journals.


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