Women's Right to Vote
Inspiring Essay on Women's Suffrage Movement
"By the end of the night, they were barely alive. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead. She suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, and kicking the women. Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917."
~~ From powerful essay on prison treatment of suffragettes fighting for women's right to vote
The below message is a powerful and inspiring reminder of how far we have come. 200 years ago, slavery was the order of the day. Just 100 years ago women were not allowed to vote. Read this shocking tale of what some women in the United States had to go through to get the right to vote, and maybe you will be inspired to deepen your commitment in this modern day to help build a brighter future for us and for our children.
With very best wishes for a transformed world,
Fred Burks for PEERS and WantToKnow.info
How Women Got the Right to Vote
This is the story of our mothers and grandmothers who lived only 100 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
In the spring of 1917, members of the National Woman's Party (NWP) began picketing the White House and the Capitol as part of a campaign for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing universal suffrage. By mid-June, NWP leader Alice Paul had been warned by the chief of police that further demonstrations would lead to arrests. In the following months, many were arrested. Some were tried and sentenced to sixty days in Occoquan Workhouse in suburban Virginia. These women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House and carrying signs asking for the right to vote.
Paddy wagon detains women picketers
Lucy Burns beaten and chained
One fateful November night while still in jail, many of these brave women were subjected to the wrath of the male institution. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.' And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead. She suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, and kicking the women. Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.
Dora Lewis knocked out
Alice Paul force fed
For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food – if you can call it that – was infested with terrible vermin. When picket leader Alice Paul embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote because – why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?
Last week, a friend of mine went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.
My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was angry – with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. 'What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'
Pauline Adams in prison garb she wore while serving a sixty-day sentence.
HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include this movie in their curriculum. I want it shown anywhere women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring in this stirring film to watch President Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane, so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'
Conferring over ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at NWP headquarters, Jackson Place, Washington, D.C.
L-R Mrs. Lawrence Lewis, Abby Scott Baker, Anita Pollitzer, Alice Paul, Florence Boeckel, Mabel Vernon (standing, right)
Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk, Conn. Serving three-day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, 'Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.'
Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. And men, too. We all need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or an independent party – remember to vote.
For a U.S. Library of Congress listing of these and other suffrage prisoners, click here.
Note: The original author of this article on women's right to vote is Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist Connie Schultz. She is married to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. For her regular column, click here. The essay has been edited for clarity. To check the veracity of the article's contents, click here. Ms. Schultz wrote this article after viewing a powerful documentary on the women's right to vote movement titled Iron Jawed Angels, which is available here.
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In the 1820s men were in power. In their homes, in the workplace, and everywhere else. The men philosophy included these ideas. First, it was accepted that women are possessions of their husbands, and therefore they must agree with everything they say. Second, it was believed that most women were uneducated, or stupid, so women were automatically assumed to be incapable of voting for president. Also, because women were unschooled and ignorant, their say was unimportant. And finally that they were superior and that they should stay that way. This was a difficult philosophy for women to overturn. This is one reason why women's suffrage took so long to obtain. (Dickey, 1995)
In addition to male domination, women hurt their own cause. The public believed that suffragists were connected with scandal-mongerers such as the Claflin sisters. Consequently, most suffragists limited their work to conventional topics and scorned radical view points. For example, "When Anthony Comstock of Boston and Josiah W. of Philadelphia undertook crusades against obscenity, feminists applauded and approved the formation in 1895 of the American Puritan Alliance." Which was why women hurt their own cause. (pg. 151, Leonard Pitt, We Americans, 1987)
However, women helped their cause gathering up the Seneca Falls Convention. The Seneca Falls Convention, in 1848, "stated the injustices suffered by women." These injustices included " the denial of the right to vote, the fact that a married woman gave control of her property to her husband, the exclusion of women from the professions, and the nearly absolute legal control of women by men. (pg.305, Conlin) In addition to their conservative views, most suffragists were elitists, that is they were not common people. For example, Pitt writes "...the leaders were white college educated, and middle class. They were an elite and a minority within that elite." As a result, suffragists were taken less seriously by the common people. (pg 152, Leonard Pitt, "We Americans, 1987)
It took an international crises, World War II, for the claims of the suffragists to be taken seriously. Only when the labor of women was need in war time, did the federal government act on considering national suffrage for women. Even though the suffragist movement progressed slowly, their efforts did have an effect on the government. The movement brought the inequality of voting restrictions to public attention. This public attention combined with the heroic service of women in industry during World War I resulted in the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in 1920. The 19th Amendment provides men and women with equal voting rights. After 90 years, the goal of suffragists was achieved. (Grolier encyclopedia, Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995)
It may have taken women a long time to achieve the right of suffrage in spite of their conservative views. Men were threatened by women who wanted to move forward. Since males dominated the United States, they knew they had the power to keep women from getting the vote. Certain states, such as Wyoming, gave women the right to vote in state elections as early as 1869. Male domination played a big part in the whole concept of women getting the right to vote. Now, women are considered to be equals with men. Even though women were "considered" to be lesser than men, they never really were, were they? (Encarta Encyclopedia, 1993).
Conlin, Joseph. A History of the United States, Our Land and Time. 1985.
Dickey, Sara. Unpublished interview, 1995.
Encarta, Microsoft Corporation, "Women's Rights," 1993
Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia. 1995.
Gruver, Rebecca. "An American History" 1985
Pitt, Leonard. We Americans, 1987