How many of you have seen the movie Mary Poppins? Come on, show of hands. I’ll wait. For those of you who haven’t you’ve been living under a rock and you’re weirdos. There I said it. Well for those of you who have then you must remember the mother singing around the house talking about Women’s Votes. When you’re five or six or seven, the song is just a catchy little ditty you can sing along with just like Spoonful of Sugar. As I grew older, and my obsession with American History and Women’s Rights grew like wildflowers, I began to understand what the song was really about. (Honestly my first real comprehensible introduction to Suffrage was a young adult romance I read around the age of 12 called Laura. She was a 16 year old girl who lived in D.C. during the time and had to decide which boy she loved. Of course she chose the one who supported her suffrage work. I think I still have the book on my shelf…)
In our history women did not get the right to vote, or essentially be equal to men, until around 1920 when the nineteenth amendment was passed. It was a hard fought struggle. (In some ways we are still fighting. see the Equal Pay Act, see all the bullshit talk about a woman’s reproductive rights being spewed in the news today.) One woman who fought harder and stronger was Alice Paul.Paul was born in 1886 on a 256 acre farm named Paulsdales to Quaker parents. The most enduring legacy of Paulsdale was the role it played in the suffrage movement. Alice learned many of her Women’s Equality beliefs at Paulsdale. Her mother, Tacie Paul, was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and held many of the meetings at the Paulsdale.
Alice had a Quaker background which also added to her belief that men and women are equal. A
brilliant woman as well as being an amazing role model, Alice graduated first in her class from Swarthmore College.
After college Alice travelled to England. There is transformed herself from reserved Quaker girl to militant suffragist. In 1907, when heading to study social work at the Woodbrooke Settlement, she passed a crowd jeering a female speaker. She stopped to observe. Alice was immediately taken over by the suffragette cause, however this was a different type equality protest then she was used to. The English Suffragettes resorted to more severe measures in their quest for the vote. They broke windows, heckled passersby’s, throw rocks, and were arrested any chance they could. In prison they staged hunger strikes. The women were forcibly fed, many times by brutal methods. But all the hard work paid off. In 1910 women were awarded the vote in England.
But what about America? Well you see, dear blog minions, America has always been a little slow on the equal rights front. In 1910, Alice returned home imbued with the radical taste of the English suffrage movement, ready to do battle for her American sisters.
In 1912, a massive parade was organized to coincide with President Wilson’s inauguration. It began on March 3, 1913 (The date of January 20th as presidential inauguration date didn’t come about until 1937 with the introduction of the 20th amendment) and started out well enough until the ladies encountered scores of male onlookers who attacked the women. First they flirted (hey baby, you don’t need to vote just make me dinner) then it turned to obscenities. It didn’t take long for the men to start physically attacking the women as the police watched (remember that the modern day rape and domestic violence laws didn’t come into effect until 1985) The rioting and violence turned the Suffrage Movement into a popular discussion topic among politicians and the general public.
Now we are into the World War 1 years. I don’t want to say that the movement was derailed by the war effort, but it was definitely pushed aside a bit. Not by Paul and the NAWSA, but many believed that the protests were unpatriotic, especially since the suffragists would picket, silently, outside the White House with incendiary signs and such. When the President ordered us to war he figured the women would simply go away. They did not. So he had them arrested on trumped up charges like obstructing traffic. Alice demanded that they be treated as political prisoners and staged hunger strikes as she did in England. She was moved to a sanitarium in the hopes that the officials could get her declared her insane, where they could then lock her up forever, if she was lucky. When news of the strikes and the horrible conditions and treatment of the women reached the press, the public demanded their release.
Upon the release of the women, Paul included, Wilson changed his stance on the suffrage amendment. (Order women arrested and beaten and people start to dislike you). By 1919, the House and the Senate passed the 19th Amendment, finally ratifying it on August 18 1920 and granting Women the right to vote. (Tennessee was the only hold out until 1920, refusing to ratify the amendment. The vote that turned the tide for Tennessee came from Harry Burn, 24 and the youngest member of the assembly for the state. He was going to vote no until he received a telegram from his mom telling him to vote yes. She probably threatened to kick his ass if he voted no. Go Momma Burn)
Alice Paul continued to fight for equality for women until her death in 1977, never stopping in her desire for all Americans to be equal and free.
So to my lady readers I ask you to remember Alice Paul’s sacrifice and struggle as you move through your daily lives and certainly when you head to the voting booth in November. We owe much to her and all her counterparts. To my male readers…never underestimate the power of women.
We’ll surprise…and the kick your ass.
This video is just plain awesome. It is from the people over at Soomo Publishing. They make amazing history centered videos. Enjoy.