This essay presents a media history of outdoor advertising that focuses on the material dimensions of controversial paper posters proliferating in cities across the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Poster historians tend to describe these controversies as a matter of content and placement only. But the gendered cultural baggage associated with paper also informed debates about the public display of posters. I track the shifting status of paper across the nineteenth century from a scarce resource primarily associated with male public culture to an overproduced nuisance that littered city streets. Through close readings of debates about posters, their effects, and the litter they produced, I argue that paper posters, as much as the cinema and other media, helped to transform public spaces in ways that allowed women unprecedented access to such spaces. By lending their likenesses to advertising posters, by taking charge of cleaning up paper litter in their communities, and by weighing in on debates about the morality and deleterious effects of certain posters, women found, in paper, a vehicle through which to launch interventions into public life at a time when they were still denied the vote.
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