As controversy continues in our country over gender rights in general, it is important to remember the struggle for women’s rights and some of what it took to get us where we are, lest by failing to distinguishing that particular aspect of inequity we lose more of what we had gained. Young people especially deserve to know and build upon this heritage.
Below is an excerpt from American Women in the Progressive Era, 1900-1920, by Dorothy and Carl J. Schneider
“…For the next year and a half suffragists picketed the White House or Congress. Always carrying brilliantly colored and highly photogenic banners, in rain, snow, and cold, in Washington’s torpid heat, they stood at their posts or marched. Women in their teens and women in their eighties picketed. Women fainted, recovered, and returned to their posts.
“…On Wilson’s second Inauguration Day, 1000 women, marching by states, circled the White House in the pouring rain, under a banner with Inez Milholland’s words: “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?’
“…Women from all over the country took their turn on line. “I have no son to give my country to fight for democracy abroad,’ wrote Mrs. S.H.B.Gray of Colorado, ‘and so I send my daughter to Washington to fight for democracy at home.’
“…Nineteen year old Edna Mary Purtell took a vacation from her file clerk’s job at Travelers Insurance in Hartford, Connecticut to demonstrate in Washington. She was arrested four times in one day and served five days on hunger strike in jail. Back at her job, warned by the president of Travelers against talking about suffrage, she told him that she would do her job responsibly but concluded, ‘once I get in that elevator (or take a) coffee break…I’ll talk about anything I want.’
“…Time and again (police) arrested the pickets and the chivalrous males who came to their defense, but not the ruffians who assaulted them, tore the banners out of their hands and destroyed them, tried to rip off their sashes, knocked them to the ground, and dragged them along the sidewalk.
“…Altogether 168 American women served jail sentences. Their choice took courage for all the pickets but especially for the gently bred, the very young, and the very old.
“…Some women were put in solitary confinement.
“…Some women hunger-struck…Officials resorted to force-feeding. Mrs. Lawrence Lewis, a grandmother, described her experience: she was seized, laid on her back, held down by five people. A doctor forced a tube through her lips and down her throat. As the fluid poured through the tube, everything turned black. She came to herself to realize that she was making terrible sounds against her will.
“…Often the women vomited continuously during the feeds. So brutal was the process that, despite a writ of habeas corpus, authorities refused to produce Lewis and Lucy Burns in court, on the grounds that they were too weak…
“…Yet Alice Paul hunger-struck for 22 days, during the last two weeks of which she was force-fed. Finally she was removed to a hospital…Despite a doctor’s certification of her sanity and warning that she would never break, for she had the spirit of Joan of Arc, she was kept in the psychopathic ward for a week incommunicado, while insane prisoners peered in at her door and nurses kept her awake with hourly examinations by flashlight.
“…From August to November 1917 the severity of treatment inflicted on the women prisoners escalated, on the streets, in the courts, and in the jail. It culminated in the November ‘Night of Terror.’ That night squads of guards beat the suffragists unmercifully. Two seized the 70-yearr-old Mrs. Nolan, dragged her away, as she pleaded with them to be careful of her lame foot, and threw her onto a bed. Two others twisted Dorothy Day’s arms above her head, lifted her, and brought her body down twice over the back of an iron bench. Others threw Mrs. Cosu against the wall of a cell; she suffered a heart attack but was refused a doctor.
“…In its progress from a gleam in the eye of Elizabeth Cady Stanton to a political reality, woman suffrage caused even those women who did not commit themselves to it to reexamine their identities and their roles. It drew on the time, money, and energy of millions. And it transformed the lives of thousands, who labored for it day and night, year after year, through hope and despair.”
Let us not forget!