Today I received an email from my mother telling the short story of the suffragists and their struggle to allow women the right to vote. It made me think about what is going on in our world right now and how our young people and especially our young women, are not interested in voting in the upcoming election.
In researching the suffrage movement, I came upon the name Alice Paul, who was instrumental in the movement. Why did I care? For starters she has the same last name as me, which of course got me very interested in this story, lol. Then when I read about her tenacity, strength and courage in this movement and all that she endured, I am hoping that somehow I might be related and that some of her strength and courage has been passed on through the generations. Even when President Woodrow Wilson tried to have her declared insane and permanently institutionalized, she refused to give up and give in. The doctor admonished Wilson and his cronies and stated “courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”
I have a granddaughter now who is almost 18 and I want nothing more than for her to be strong, courageous and to always stand up for what she believes in. My granddaughter informed me the other day that she is sad that she couldn’t vote in the last election and she is so looking forward to being able to vote in the next election. She is excited and I couldn’t be more proud.
I am really looking forward to going with her when she first votes and I hope that she remembers what the women before us went through so that we women could have this privilege. I hope that more young women are as excited as she is about voting and they pass their excitement on to not only other women but our young men as well.
At first, the suffragists were politely ignored. But on April 6, 1917, the
United States entered World War I. The suffragists’ signs became more pointed.
They taunted Wilson, accusing him of being a hypocrite. How could he send
American men to die in a war for democracy when he denied voting rights to
women at home? The suffragists became an embarrassment to President Wilson. It
was decided the picketing in front of the White House must stop.
Spectators assualted the picketers, both verbally and physically. Police did
nothing to protect the women. Soon, the police began arresting the suffragists
on charges of obstructing traffic. At first, the charges were dropped. Next,
the women were sentenced to jail terms of just a few days. But the suffragists
kept picketing, and their prison sentences grew. Finally, in an effort to break
the spirit of the picketers, the police arrested Alice Paul. She was tried and
sentenced to 7 months in prison.
Paul was placed in solitary confinement. For two weeks, she had nothing to eat
except bread and water. Weak and unable to walk, she was taken to the prison
hospital. There she began a hunger strike–one which others would join. “It
was,” Paul said later, “the strongest weapon left with which to continue… our
battle . . .”
By the time Alice Paul was sent to prison, the fight for women’s suffrage had
been going on for almost 70 years. It had started in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New
York, at a small Women’s Rights Convention. These early feminists wanted the
same opportunities as men. They wanted the chance to attend college, to become
doctors and lawyers, and to own their own land. If they could win the right to vote,
they could use their votes to open the doors of the world to women.
Paul was a veteran of suffrage protests. She had served a prison term in
Britain for supporting women’s right to the vote. She and other younger leaders
like Harriet Stanton Blatch thought one last push was needed to get the
attention of the President and the Congress. Giant suffrage parades were held
in New York and Washington. Thousands of suffragists in long white dresses
marched. There were floats, women on horseback, and banners flying. A number of
men joined in. But the parades did not change the minds of President Wilson or
Congress. So the picketing began at the White House.
After 5 weeks in prison, Alice Paul was set free. The attempts to stop the
picketers had backfired. Newspapers carried stories about the jail terms and
forced feedings of the suffragists. The stories angered many Americans and
created more support than ever for the suffrage amendment.
Finally, on January 9, 1918, WIlson announced his support for suffrage. The
next day, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Susan. B. Anthony
Amendment, which would give suffrage to all women citizens. On June 4, 1919,
the Senate passed the Amendment by one vote. And a little more than a year
later, on August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the
amendment. That made it officially the Nineteenth Amendment to the