Women, Men and Suffrage
(Ed Note: This is the fourteenth thru sixteenth
in a series of our exclusive publication of the manuscript written by
after much research to fill in the gaps left by history books when dealing
with women’s issues and their struggle to gain the vote.)
In July of 1868, the 14th Amendment was made a part of the Constitution. It stated outright that "…when the right to vote at any election…is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state…the basis of representation therein shall be reduced…" Following on its heels, the 15th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1869, stating the right of citizens of the United States to vote cannot be denied because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. These two Amendments emphatically enfranchised black males and clearly excluded females of both races in the inclusion of the word "male." Long-time supporters and friends of woman suffrage formed ranks with northern politicians who told the women this was "the Negroe’s hour." They would have to wait just a while longer for "their hour."
Not surprisingly, Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony were bitterly outraged. They immediately called for the formation of an organization devoted to women’s causes only. No longer would they support men who, they believed, betrayed them after years of work devoted to liberty and equality for all men and all women. The new organization they sponsored was the National Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, on the other hand, cautioned patience and perseverance. Lucy said two great "oceans" engulfed black men and all women, and she would be thankful to God if any body could get out of the terrible pits. Almost before the ink could dry on the charter papers for the National Woman Suffrage Association, Lucy and Henry formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. It was the beginning of a split in the drive for woman’s equality that lasted 20 years. Not until 1889 did the two groups, their differences resolved for the sake of the cause, merge into the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Divisions hurt the cause
But Elizabeth and Susan engaged in other suspect behavior, which further affronted the Stone-Blackwell forces. While canvassing Kansas in 1869 on behalf of a suffrage referendum, Elizabeth and Susan teamed up with the eccentric adventurer George Francis Train. Train gave money to the cause and helped Susan and Elizabeth launch their own newspaper, The Revolution. However, the money promised was less than that actually received, and Train eventually landed in jail in Ireland for some activities in which he was involved with the Fenians. Susan spent years repaying a $10,000 debt incurred by the newspaper foray out of her personal income.
In the meantime, the suffragists were further divided when in the early 1870s Victoria Woodhull exposed the love affair between the nationally revered minister, Henry Ward Beecher, and his parishioner, Elizabeth "Lib" Tilton. Lib confessed the liaison to her mother who, not being the epitome of discretion, confessed it to numerous others. Victoria audaciously devoted one entire edition of the Weekly to this story which sold thousands of copies, some readers being willing to spend a whopping $40 for one issue.
Victoria, the outspoken advocate of Free Love, admitted that she had carried out a sexual affair with Lib’s husband, Theodore Tilton, but that confession, more or less expected of Victoria, was overshadowed by the public speculation about Henry and Lib. The news caused such a sensation throughout the country that the suffrage women, who supposedly included the troublesome Victoria, were scandalized. Elizabeth Beecher Hooker, a suffragist and half-sister of Henry Beecher, who believed Henry guilty but who, nevertheless, "said she would snub" Victoria, was silenced when an observer and gentleman said, "It would ill become these women, especially a Beecher, to…cast any smirch upon Mrs. Woodhull…for I am reliably informed that Henry Ward Beecher preaches to at least 20 of his mistresses every Sunday." Henry, a man of many words both spoken and written, remained peculiarly silent.
What shocked the members of the American Woman Suffrage Association was Anthony’s and Stanton’s defense of Lib Tilton and Mrs. Woodhull. Of Henry Ward Beecher, Susan wrote to Elizabeth, "For a cultivated man at whose feet the whole world of men as well as of women sits in love and reverence, whose moral, intellectual, social resources are without limit – for such a man, so blest, so overflowing with soul-food – for him to ask or accept the body of one or a dozen of his reverent and revering devotees – I tell you he is the sinner." Such name-calling was not typical of Susan, but she never commented on the affair publicly no matter how persistently newspaper reporters beseeched her to do so.
Elizabeth Stanton concurred, for although she thought Victoria might be problematic, to her Henry was an anathema. She wrote Susan "if my testimony would rescue Victoria, and yet at the same time dethrone Henry Ward Beecher, then I am willing to give it."
The majority of women critics whitewashed Henry Ward Beecher just as the "impartial" committee of "select elders of Plymouth Church" did. If somehow Lib Tilton got herself seduced by Henry Beecher, it was obviously the Eve seducing Adam syndrome. But Susan saw to the heart of that argument. She wrote, "This is one of man’s most effective engines for our division and subjugation. He creates the public sentiment, builds the gallows, and then makes us hangman for our own sex. Women have criticized the Mary Wollstonedrafts, the Fanny Wrights, the George Sands, and the Fanny Kembles, of all ages; and now men mock us with the fact, and say we are ever cruel to each other. Let us end this ignoble record and henceforth stand by womanhood."
On the Western front
While these upheavals were wracking the suffrage movement in the East, suffragists in the West, with the exception of Wyoming, were making slow progress. As women tramped the territory appealing to the individual states to grant women the vote, most of them did not realize that they had a "secret enemy" who beat them at the polls whenever suffrage was on the ballot. That "invisible enemy" was the "liquor interest."
The same year Wyoming granted the vote to women, the Prohibition Party was organized. One can only imagine the horror of saloonkeepers and their patrons when in 1873 and 1874 "an uprising of Christian women against the saloons of Ohio startled the church, the saloon and the nation. Groups of women, well known for their virtue and piety, appeared before the doors of saloons, or at times entered, read passages of Scripture, sang hymns and, kneeling, prayed fervently for the abolition of all rum shops." Out of this "crusade" came the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, formed in 1874.
By 1881, the Brewer’s Convention "included the adoption of an anti-suffrage resolution to the effect that the Brewers would welcome prohibition as far less dangerous to the trade than woman suffrage." Prohibition, the Brewers reasoned, they would work around; the women they could not. As it turned out, the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of liquor was passed in 1919, before women got the vote. It was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, 13 years after women began voting.
During the intervening years of the struggle, the Brewers dumped millions of dollars into the anti-suffrage campaign. Political candidates were bought outright. Newspaper editors were, too. The "foreign" vote, meaning immigrant, was organized: the Russians voted against suffrage in the Dakotas; the Germans in Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa; the Negro in Kansas and Oklahoma; and the Chinese in California. Sometimes these purchased voters were paid off right outside the polling booths in plain view of the public. In some instances when the reading ability of the bribed voter was in doubt, the ballots were color coded as in "Wisconsin in 1912 by using a small pink ballot for the suffrage" question. "Election law was vague and incomplete in most states." Even when fraud could be proved, the outcome was not changed.
Many, many women abandoned the suffrage movement as it dawned on them that the powerful forces against them were nearly insurmountable. But others would not give up. When the struggle ended in 1920, there had been 56 referenda campaigns, 480 campaigns to get state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get state constitutional conventions to write women suffrage into state constitutions, 277 campaigns to induce state party conventions to include woman suffrage into state constitutions, 270 conventions to do likewise, and 19 campaigns – some nominal but some intensive – in 19 successive Congresses. The women remembered what Susan Anthony had said. Failure was impossible.
(Quotes from Catt, Carrie Chapman, and Shuler, Nettie
Rogers, Woman Suffrage and Politics, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New
York, 1926; Marberry, M. M., Vicky A Biography of Victoria C.
Funk & Wagnalls, New York, 1967; Coolidge, Olivia, Women’s Rights
the Suffrage Movement in America 1848-1920, E.P. Dutton & &
Co., New York, 1966; general background from various published sources
on woman’s history. Copyright 1993)
Despite the resistance put forward by the liquor interests, more states in the West legislated woman suffrage as the years went by. After Wyoming came into the Union in 1890, Colorado was admitted with suffrage in 1893. In 1896, Idaho and Utah were admitted as suffrage states. After another lapse of fourteen years, Washington came into the Union in 1910 and California in 1911. By this time, most of the old guard of the Suffrage movement had died. By the end of the century, the reunited National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), lacking political clout, concentrated mostly on "pleading, wheedling, proving and praying" for the vote, as their critics described it.
When Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912 in a Democratic landslide, with the Senate and House both controlled by Democrats, he could not possibly have imagined the turn events were going to take. During the same year, Alice Paul, a young reformer of Quaker ancestry and a graduate of Swarthmore college with an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, moved to Washington, D.C., eventually split from NAWSA with her followers, formed the Congressional Union which later became the National Woman’s Party (NWP), and marched on the Presidency in a systematic attack carried out from 1917 through 1919.
Wilson was inaugurated in March 1913. At first, suffrage women only lobbied him and the federal legislators, much like they had always done. When the House met in April, they staged a mass demonstration. The Senate convened in May and agreed to put the suffrage question on its calendar. In July, the women sponsored a colorful motorcade from Maryland to the Senate building to encourage the Senators to pass the Anthony Amendment. In December, the President told them, "I was talking only yesterday with several members of Congress in regard to a Suffrage Committee in the House. The subject is one in which I am deeply interested, and you may rest assured that I will give it my earnest attention."
In his message to Congress that same month, however, he did not even refer to the suffrage amendment. Instead, he "recommended self-government for Filipino men."
By the end of the Senate and House sessions in 1914, "women had to face the fact that the 63rd congress had made a distinctly hostile record on suffrage. The President, as leader of his party, had seven times refused all aid; the Democratic Party had recorded its opposition through an adverse vote in the Senate and a caucus in the House forbidding even consideration of the measure."
In August, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Mrs. Oliver H.P. Belmont proposed a get-tough plan whereby women in the nine suffrage states would be brought to vote against Democratic candidates, whether friendly to suffrage or not, as punishment for the party’s failure to bring the amendment. Anna Shaw, then President of NAWSA, denounced this radical plan, as did the membership. But for the fall elections in 1914, the Alice Paul faction sent "a tiny handful of women – never more than two, more often only one to a state – to journey forth from Washington into the nine suffrage states of the West to put before the voting women this political theory, and to ask them to support it." Of the 43 House seats sought by the Democrats in November 1914, only 20 were won. Alice had proved to her satisfaction that where women could vote, they could wield political power, a declaration that did not endear her to non-suffrage politicians.
In 1915, buoyed by their success in the past November elections, Alice and her followers, convinced politicians understood the potential of women’s votes, determined to make political work their principal effort toward winning suffrage nationwide. In September, they called a Woman Voters’ Convention at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. During the summer, thousands of signatures of voting women were taken on a petition to go to the President and congress bearing the resolution for passing the amendment. Thousands more were added as their envoys criss-crossed suffrage states by automobile, "creating a sensation all along the way." Before the motorcade reached Washington, President Wilson "hastened to New Jersey to cast his vote for suffrage in a state referendum," which was lost. He then told the women, "I believe suffrage should be settled by the states and not by the national government, and that in no circumstances should it be made a party question."
Alice felt otherwise. By June 1916, she had split completely from NAWSA and formed the National Woman’s Party with one, and only one plant – "the immediate passage of the suffrage amendment" – period. NWP said it would "withhold support for all existing parties until women were politically free and would punish any political party in power which did not use its power to free women." Less than a year before, NAWSA under the new leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, which began in 1915, adopted its plan to win suffrage by diplomatic maneuvering. NAWSA women abhorred the politically militant tactics of Alice and her followers, which they deemed not only ineffective but unladylike.
When Wilson ran for re-election in 1916, his supporters campaigned on the slogan, "Vote for Wilson. He Kept Us out of War!" NWP responded, "Vote Against Wilson! He Kept Us out of Suffrage!"
Wilson won, but not by the landslide of 1912. In the suffrage states of the West, he received only 57 electoral votes. In 1912, he received 69. The National Woman’s Party claimed the credit. In Illinois, which granted women presidential suffrage in 1914, women voted two to one against him. Democrats conceded, though hostile to woman suffrage, "that the National Woman’s Party protest was the only factor in the campaign which stemmed the western tide toward Wilson, and which finally made California the pivotal state and left his election in doubt for a week.
During the campaign in California in 1916, a tragedy occurred which played into the emotional appeal throughout the country for woman suffrage. Inez Milholland fainted on the campaign platform. She did not recover from what NWP leaders claimed was "the terrific strain of the campaign which undermined her young strength." Her dying words, reportedly, were, "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?"
Memorials were held across the nation to pay tribute to Inez. The most dazzling was held in Washington, D.C., on Christmas Day in Statuary Hall under the Capitol Dome where the memorial for Lincoln was conducted. Banners were carried; music sung; special costumes worn. There was great oratory, which lasted for hours. Inez herself was quoted: "It is women for women now and shall be until the fight is won! Together we shall stand shoulder to shoulder for the greatest principle the world has ever known, the right of self-government!"
Of course, NWP organizers intended not only to mourn Inez. Convinced the President "was the one leader powerful enough to direct his party to accept this reform," they sent a deputation of over 300 women to confront him. He was caught off guard. "I was not apprised that you were coming her to make any representation that would issue an appeal to me. I had been told you were coming to present memorial resolutions with regard to the very remarkable woman whom your cause has lost." Flustered, he ended by saying, "I am bound as leader of a party. As the leader of a party my commands come from that party and not from private personal convictions." In another dodge, he told the women, in effect, that they must first convince his party.
NWP leaders did not accept that. Believing fully that the President had the power to lead his party to pass the amendment and not the other way around, they began in January 1917 to put more pressure directly on the President.
(Quotes from Stevens, Doris, Jailed for Freedom,
Liveright Publishing Co., New York, 1920; general background from various
published sources on woman’s history. Copyright 1993)
The National Woman’s Party set up headquarters directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in a residence called Cameron House. There, 60 volunteers signed up for "sentinel duty." NWP’s plan was to hound the President ceaselessly by being a silent but ever-present reminder of its demand until he moved his party to grant it.
On January 10, 1917, the "sentinels" began the protest by which they would convince the President that women were finished with "pleading, wheedling, proving and praying." Each day they picketed on the sidewalks surrounding the white House carrying banners, which spelled out their messages. They called their method "non-resistant force."
At first, the President was mildly amused. On cold winter evenings, after the women stood out in the cold for hours, they were frequently invited inside the back door of the White House for a cup of hot tea or cocoa. But, by inauguration day, March 4, the President no longer thought them amusing. When the pickets arrived that morning, the gates were locked. Not deterred, the sentinels then picketed outside the gates.
By April, President Wilson could no longer keep the United States out of the European war which, ironically for readers today, was precipitated in Sarajevo, in Bosnia, with the assassination of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand (and his wife, who is generally not mentioned as a victim) in 1914. The 65th Congress declared war on April 6. Immediately, all women in the nation were asked to join the war effort, putting their demands on hold for the duration. NAWSA said, "Yes." But NWP leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, recalling women were promised the vote after the Civil War but were then denied it in favor of black males, said, "No!"
Caught up in the emergency and the rhetoric of the time, President Wilson proclaimed, "We shall fight for the thing we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy." The National Woman’s Party said that was small consolation. They would continue to fight for the thing nearest their hearts—the vote.
The War played into the hands of the Administration as it did to the interests of the non-resisting but forceful women. The Administration and the Congress pleaded the War’s exigency—nothing more about the Anthony Amendment until "after all pending war measures have been disposed of." The NWP said the War propaganda was inconsistent—fighting for democracy abroad while denying it to half the population at home. They were accused of disloyalty to the country.
By June, the Administration realized it had to make one of two choices. Either it could urge the Congress to pass the Anthony Amendment or it could remove the pickets, which were a wartime embarrassment to the President because of the national and international attention they attracted. It decided to remove the pickets.
The arrests began on June 22, 1917. The first two arrested were Lucy Burns and Katharine Morey of Boston. The next day, four more were arrested. As the months dragged by and both sides refused to capitulate, a total of 218 women were arrested for picketing the White House and for assembling in other public places around the Capitol. The charges were always the same, "obstructing traffic," even though some of the women were arrested on a completely deserted street.
The arrests were made, convictions secured and imprisonment carried out by bureaucrats of President Wilson’s administration—advisors close to the President as well as lower echelon appointees—Chief of Police Major Pullman, police court Judge Mullowny, and Warden Whittaker and Matron Herndon of the Occoquan workhouse in Virginia. By fall, as the prisoners’ numbers increased, some were kept at the District Jail in the Capitol under the careful watch of Warden Zinkham. At times, certain women were put into solitary confinement in both prisons and in prison hospitals.
Deplorable Conditions face those Incarcerated
Convicted on charges of obstructing traffic, NWP women were incarcerated as criminals with sentences ranging from three days to seven months. Conditions at Occoquan were wretched. One sliver of soap had to be shared with the regular inmates, some of whom were suffering from syphilis or consumption. Putrid drinking water was shared from a common cup. Bed linens and prison clothes were dirty. The toilet might be a hold in the floor or a wooden bucket half filled with water, which was infrequently emptied. The food was sour and wormy. The prisoners were handled roughly—pushed, dragged and slammed into cells. Some were struck with fists or the poles, which held their banners. Warden Whittaker was a bully—"I’m the boss down here—never mind the law, I make the law"—and Mrs. Herndon was ignorant and mean. Despite the abuse, the women stuck to their "non-resistant force" imperative.
Criminals or Political Prisoners?
Following their plan, the women then demanded to be treated as political prisoners, not criminals. This refused, they "resorted to the ultimate protest-weapon inside prison—the hunger strike." That began the darkest hour of the "non-resistant force" they advocated.
"Dr. Gannon told me then I must be fed. Was stretched on bed, two doctors, matron, four colored prisoners present, Whittaker in hall. I was held down by five people at legs, arms and head. I refused to open mouth. Gannon pushed tube up left nostril. I turned and twisted my head all I could, but he managed to push it up. It hurts nose and throat very much and makes nose bleed freely. Tube drawn out covered with blood. Operation leaves one very sick." Lucy Burns, writing on a scrap of paper from her cell, described the experience thus. Alice Paul, who later wrote detailed accounts of her treatment in prison, was force-fed three times a day for three weeks. She was also put into the psychiatric ward and threatened with permanent placement in an insane asylum.
Dr. William A. White, one of the physicians who examined her, said he felt himself "in the presence of an unusually gifted personality…she was wonderfully alert and keen…possessed of an absolute conviction of her cause." He praised the "most admirable, coherent, logical and forceful way in which she discussed with him the purpose of the campaign." Dr. White’s report was ignored by the Wilson administration.
Doris Stevens, graduate of Oberlin College, social worker and teacher, was one of the prisoners. She was arrested July 14, 1917, and sentenced to 60 days. The President "pardoned" her three days later. She was arrested again in New York in March 1919, but by that time, the President and his advisors had capitulated to the extent that no sentences were handed down.
In 1920, the events vivid in her mind and many documents and records still available, Doris wrote the stories of the women who were Jailed for Freedom. The book is chilling. One can hardly believe it happened in the United States of America, but there are the sworn and notarized testimonies, the undisputed record.
Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, represented the sentiment of the women in NAWSA when she wrote, "The picketing seems to me a very silly business, and I am sure it is doing the cause harm instead of good." But there were many others, among them many men, who said the amendment never would have passed had not the members of the National Woman’s Party forced the Administration’s hand by taking their adamant stand and enduring the suffering which resulted.
That debate has been left to history. Today, however, when famous suffragists are recalled, infrequent as that may be, one never hears the names of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Mrs. Oliver H. P. Belmont or Doris Stevens. Is it any wonder?
(Quotes from Stevens, Doris, Jailed for Freedom, Liveright Publishing Co., New York, 1920; general background from various published sources on woman’s history. Copyright 1993)
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