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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Gathering Steam

     The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) continued its quiet state-by-state campaign for the right to vote. Meanwhile, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU), led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, was determined to keep the cause in front of the public.
     In March 1914, the Senate voted on a federal woman suffrage amendment for first time since 1887. The bill was defeated. It was reintroduced the next day.
Chicago's Parade

    That same year, Paul organized May Day parades in cities across the country, garnering local and national publicity for the movement. Additionally, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, with more than two million members throughout the U.S., formally endorsed the suffrage campaign. In November, women won full suffrage in Montana and Nevada.
     The House of Representatives voted for first time on a federal woman suffrage amendment in January 1915.  The measure was defeated.
     That same month, the CU opened a "freedom booth" at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where they displayed exhibits in support of expanding full women’s suffrage beyond the eleven states that already had it. Helen Keller, a famous supporter of the cause, spoke at the booth. The CU representatives collected 500,000 signatures on their suffrage petition at the exposition. Suffrage envoys left California in September, carrying the petition by automobile across the country to Congress and President Wilson.
Suffrage Envoys

    Carrie Chapman Catt again assumed leadership of the NAWSA in 1915. She continued the state-by-state efforts to win suffrage. Attempts to reconcile with the CU failed. Despite NAWSA objections, the CU restructured as a national organization and sent organizers to all states to plan conventions and establish state branches. In September, the CU held the first Woman Voters Convention with delegates from states where women had full voting rights.
     In December 1915, the CU held its first national convention in Washington, D.C. The event coincided with the opening of the 64th Congress and the arrival of the suffrage envoys carrying the petition. On December 7, a federal woman suffrage amendment was introduced in the Senate. On the 16th, CU members testified in favor of the amendment before the House Judiciary Committee. The next day, a final attempt at reconciliation with the NAWSA failed.
      To keep the cause before the public, 23 CU members left Washington, D.C. in April 1916 on "The Suffrage Special," a five-week train tour to garner support for the federal woman suffrage amendment among women voters in the West. Subsequently, Alice Paul organized the National Woman’s Party, which was made up of women who already had full suffrage. They supported the efforts of their disenfranchised sisters, who were still represented by the CU. The two complementary organizations coexisted until they merged into the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1917.
NWP  Flag
      The NWP met in Colorado Springs in 1916 to discuss the upcoming election. They chose not to endorse either candidate during the presidential campaigns.  Instead, they decided to oppose all Democratic congressional candidates in order to hold the party in power responsible for failure to pass the suffrage amendment.
      On October 20, a mob attacked NWP members who were demonstrating against Woodrow Wilson outside a Chicago auditorium. Three days later, Inez Milholland Boissevain, leader of the 1913 parade in Washington, D.C. and an NWP organizer, collapsed from exhaustion on the stage while giving speech against President Wilson and the Democratic Party in Los Angeles. She died of pernicious anemia on November 25 at the age of 30, becoming widely regarded as the first martyr of the women’s suffrage movement.
     In the November election, Jeanette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Woodrow Wilson was re-elected President.
     NWP members silently demonstrated at Wilson’s annual address to Congress on December 5. They held a banner that read: “Mr. President, What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage?” A memorial service for Boissevain was held on Christmas Day in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Attendees drafted suffrage resolutions for presentation to the President.
     After two weeks of stonewalling, Wilson finally met with a delegation of 300 women on January 9, 1917. They presented him with the resolutions drafted during the memorial service and asked him to use his influence to promote a federal woman suffrage amendment. Wilson angrily refused and walked out on the women.
Silent Sentinels
     In response to Wilson’s rejection of their request for his support a federal amendment, NWP members began picketing the White House. These “Silent Sentinels” stood outside the fence day after day, despite rain, snow or whatever weather they encountered. They held banners with pro-suffrage messages and other banners of purple, white, and gold, the colors of the NWP.
Grand Picket
     On March 4, the eve of Wilson’s second inauguration, more than 1000 women staged a “Grand Picket.” They marched around the perimeter of the White House, where all gates to the grounds were locked, in driving icy rain, waiting to present him with resolutions from their national convention. After several hours, Wilson and his wife left the White House, driving past the picket line.
     In April, federal women’s suffrage amendments were introduced in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Additionally, the United States entered World War I. Carrie Chapman Catt promised President Wilson that the NAWSA would cease efforts on behalf of winning the vote in support of the war effort. Meanwhile, the “Silent Sentinels” continued their daily pickets.
      The battle had risen to a new level.



  1. Great post. These women had such spirit and fight. It's a timely reminder that women have not had the vote for very long, just one long lifetime.

  2. Thanks for your comment. We certainly owe these women a debt of gratitude. I remember similar passions for the ERA in the 1970s, unfortunately with a less successful outcome. It's likely to take as long to achieve equality for women as it did to win the vote.

  3. A timely and vital post! Thank you! This is fundamental to an expression of the reservoir of human rights that do not depend on a particular government for articulation. Furthermore, Ms. Markim's work reminds us of how important this history is to our collective memory.

  4. Ann, I'm looking forward to another of your fantastic books that take me back to the time we all should be so proud of for women across our nation in years past. And indeed, their fight was long, hard and thank goodness those women had the courage,determination,and energy in continuing to reach their final goal. Great cover too. Wishing you much success with this one.

  5. After reading this post and seeing how often efforts failed to give women the right to vote just makes me steam. It's so insulting that men think they are the only ones who have brains and understand what's needed in the government. I am very proud of my paternal grandmother, Matilda McNeal who fought for women's suffrage. I wish I could have known her.

    The right to vote is extremely important to ALL Americans and we should treasure that right by making use of it and VOTE. We honor those who fought for the right to do so when we vote.

    I need to check out your book, The Claim. The cover reminds me winter is not too far off.

    A great article, Ann.

  6. Thank you. My novel, THE CAUSE, involves the women's suffrage movement. My latest release, THE CLAIM, is set during the Klondike gold rush. I've been doing this blog series in recognition of the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment. The final installment will be next month. Then I'll do some blogs related to the gold rush.

  7. It's interesting that the American colors included gold -- most of the tribute pins and other things I see use the British colors of purple, white, and green. I wonder why.

    1. I think it came from yellow, adopted from yellow sunflowers in Kansas when women were trying to win suffrage in that state in 1867.

  8. A long process and what amazing women in both groups who deserve our unending gratitude. Doris

  9. They sure do. We must honor their sacrifices by voting in every election.