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 protesters 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, protesters 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 protesters 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.
“Alice Paul Talks.” Philadelphia Tribune, January 1910. Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. Scrapbook 8. Part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Influenced in part by the publicity generated by the White House pickets and subsequent arrests and forced feedings of women protesters, 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.
- The Library’s exhibit Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote celebrates the efforts of those who participated in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and who continued fighting until the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote became a reality over 70 years later.
- 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.
- Search Chronicling America, a collection of historic American newspapers, to follow the women’s suffrage movement and the activities of those who led the campaign to secure the right to vote for women. Start with the Topics in Chronicling America features on Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, and the Nineteenth Amendment.
- 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 part of the collection Votes for Women: The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage: Selected Images from the Collections of the Library of Congress.
- Read documents related to the women’s suffrage movement in the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. This collection consists of books and pamphlets documenting the suffrage campaign. The bulk of the collection is derived from the library of Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA from 1900 to 1904 and again from 1915 to 1920. She donated the collection to the Library of Congress in 1938.
- View the American Women Series of research guides to learn about the extensive collections of materials found throughout the Library. Each guide focuses on the resources available to study women’s history and culture through a subject or format approach as provided by the different reading rooms at the Library.
- Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller, part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, document the activities of the Geneva (NY) Political Equality Club, founded in 1897 by Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller, as well as efforts at the state, national, and international levels to win the vote for women.
- Search Today in History 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 resources provided on the Teachers Page related to women’s suffrage and history such as the Women’s Suffrage primary source set and the lesson plans on Women’s History.