Today in History: August 28
Picketing for Suffrage
Ten suffragists were arrested on August 28, 1917, as they picketed the White House. The protesters were there in an effort to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to support the proposed "Anthony amendment" to the Constitution that would guarantee women the right to vote. Daily picketing began on January 10, 1917. During that year, more than 1,000 women from across the country joined the picket line outside the White House. Between June and November, 218 protestors from 26 states were arrested and charged with "obstructing sidewalk traffic." Of those arrested, 97 spent time in either the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or in the District of Columbia jail. Initially, protestors stood silently, holding placards inscribed with relatively tame messages such as "Mr. President, what will you do for Woman Suffrage?" and "How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?" President Wilson maintained decorum, greeting the protestors with a tip of the hat as he rode, his wife at his side, through the White House gates.
By late spring, the picketers brandished more provocative placards. They took advantage of the United States' April 6 entry into the war in Europe to press their case. Bystanders erupted in violence on June 20, when picketers met Russian envoys with signs that proclaimed the United States a democracy in name only.
The White House protest reflected a rift between the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), led by Carrie Chapman Catt, and the more confrontational National Woman's Party, led by former NAWSA member Alice Paul.
Having spent time in a British jail for her participation in suffrage protests in England, Paul was no stranger to confrontation or its potential value to a political movement. In "Alice Paul Talks," she describes her experience during a hunger strike, a tactic she later employed at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia:
I resorted to the hunger strike method twice…When the forcible feeding was ordered I was taken from my bed, carried to another room and forced into a chair, bound with sheets and sat upon bodily by a fat murderer, whose duty it was to keep me still. Then the prison doctor, assisted by two woman attendants, placed a rubber tube up my nostrils and pumped liquid food through it into the stomach. Twice a day for a month, from November 1 to December 1, this was done.
Influenced in part by the publicity generated by the White House pickets and subsequent arrests and forced feedings of women protestors, President Wilson lent his support to the suffrage amendment in January 1918. The amendment was approved by Congress shortly thereafter. Women achieved the right to vote with the August 18, 1920, ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which is commemorated by Women's Equality Day.
Learn more about the women's suffrage movement:
- Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party includes photographs that document the National Woman’s Party (NWP) push for ratification of the 19th Amendment as well as its later campaign for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Included are a “timeline of key events” in the history of the NWP as well as essays on major figures of the Party and tactics and techniques used during their suffrage campaign.
- View One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage: An Overview to learn about key events in the history of the women's suffrage movement. This timeline is a part of the collection By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920 which contains images related to the movement.
- Read documents related to the women's suffrage movement in Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. This collection consists of materials from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, donated to the Library of Congress in 1938 by Carrie Chapman Catt.
- American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States is simultaneously a guide, an online magnet for digitized women's history materials drawn from a plethora of Library sources, and a gateway. One section of the guide describes the Women’s Suffrage collections held by the Manuscript Division.
- Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911 document the activities of the Geneva (NY) Political Equality Club, founded in 1897 by Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter AnneFitzhugh Miller, as well as efforts at the state, national, and international levels to win the vote for women.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the term Seneca Falls to learn more about that landmark 1848 convention on women's rights. Other Today in History features on woman's suffrage include the 1854 Ohio Woman's Rights Convention, the 1869 decision by the Wyoming Territory to grant women the right to vote, the 1884 address by Susan B. Anthony to the House Judiciary Committee, and the 1885 birth of Alice Paul.
- Explore Women Pioneers in American Memory. This Feature Presentation of the Teachers Page provides an overview of American Memory resources related to the study of women's history.