Women Marchers Attacked at Inauguration
Part 3: Militant Suffragists Split Over Strategy
Militant Suffragists Split Over Strategy
Alice Paul saw the March 3, 1913 suffrage parade as an opening volley in a more militant woman suffrage battle.
Alice Paul had moved to Washington, D.C. in January of that year. She rented a basement room at 1420 F Street NW. With Lucy Burns and others she organized the Congressional Committee as an auxiliary within the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). They began to use the room as an office and base for their work to win a federal constitutional amendment for woman suffrage.
Paul and Burns were among those who believed that state-by-state efforts to amend state constitutions was a process that would take too long and would fail in many states. Paul's experience working in England with the Pankhursts and others had convinced her that more militant tactics were also needed to bring public attention and sympathy to the cause.
After the March suffrage parade put the issue of woman suffrage more prominently into the public eye, and after the public outcry over the lack of police protection helped increase public sympathy for the movement, the women moved ahead with their goal.
In April, 1913, Alice Paul began promoting the "Susan B. Anthony" amendment. It was introduced into Congress on March 10, 1914, where it failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote, but drew a vote of 35 to 34. A petition to extend voting rights to women had been first introduced into Congress in 1871, following the ratification of the 15th Amendment extending voting rights regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The last time that a federal bill had been submitted to Congress, in 1878, it had been defeated by an overwhelming margin.
In July, the Congressional Union women organized an automobile procession (automobiles still being newsworthy, especially when driven by women) to present a petition for the Anthony amendment with 200,000 signatures from around the United States.
In October, militant British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst began an American speaking tour. In November elections, Illinois voters approved a state suffrage amendment, but Ohio voters defeated one.
By December, the NAWSA leadership, including Carrie Chapman Catt, decided that the more militant tactics of Alice Paul and the Congressional Committee were unacceptable and that their goal of a federal amendment was premature. The December NAWSA convention expelled the militants, who renamed their organization the Congressional Union.
The Congressional Union, which merged in 1917 with the Women's Political Union to form the National Woman's Party (NWP), continued to work through marches, parades and other public demonstrations.
After the 1916 Presidential election, Paul and the NWP believed that Woodrow Wilson had made a commitment to support a suffrage amendment. When, after his second inauguration in 1917, he did not fulfill this promise, Paul organized 24-hour picketing of the White House.
Many of the picketers were arrested for picketing, for demonstrating, for writing in chalk on the sidewalk outside the White House, and other related offenses. They often went to prison for their efforts. In prison, some followed the British suffragists' example and went on hunger strikes. As in Britain, the prison officials responded by force-feeding the prisoners. Paul herself, while imprisoned at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, was force-fed. Lucy Burns, with whom Alice Paul had organized the Congressional Committee in early 1913, spent perhaps the most time in prison of all the suffragists.
Their efforts succeeded in keeping the issue in the public eye. The more conservative NAWSA also remained active in working for suffrage. The effect of all the efforts bore fruit when the U.S. Congress passed the Susan B. Anthony amendment: the House in January 1918 and the Senate in June, 1919.
Click on most images in this article to find a larger image and more information on the image. Illustrations on this page courtesy United States Library of Congress.
Text copyright 1999-2004 © Jone Johnson Lewis.