Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Suffragist Memorial


     The national women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 and had gained a substantial following by 1916.  With the approach of the First World War, many of the activists in the National American Woman Suffrage Association turned to either pacifism or to support for American preparedness.  The more radical National Woman’s Party, created by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns in 1916, continued to focus on winning the vote for women.  Lucy Burns and Alice Paul were activists, suffragists and good friends. Lucy Burns had attended Vassar College and Yale University, and Alice Paul had attended Swarthmore College and earned her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. The pair was despised by men, and conservative women opposed them. 

     The National Woman’s Party felt betrayed by Woodrow Wilson.  The women believed that Woodrow Wilson had made a commitment to support a suffrage amendment in his campaign for a second Presidential term. When, after his second inauguration in 1917, Wilson did not fulfill this promise, Paul organized picketing of the White House.  This was unprecedented.  Never before had anyone protested in front of the White House.  Some considered the action nothing short of treason.  A woman in New York wrote a letter to the editor calling picketing of the White House, “a menace to the life of the President--a silent invitation to the assassin.”  Undeterred, suffragist demonstrators carried banners quoting Wilson’s own speeches, "We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts--for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments."

     On January 9, 1918, President Wilson announced support for a Constitutional Amendment to allow women’s suffrage.  To keep up the pressure, suffragist protestors resumed picketing the White House.  Paul urged men to vote against anti-suffrage Congressmen in the November 1918 elections.  After the election, most re-elected members of Congress were pro-suffrage.  Approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and ratified by the requisite thirty six states, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits denying any citizen the right to vote because of that citizen's sex, was ratified on August 18, 1920.

     On May 16, 2021 the “Turning Point Suffragist Memorial” was dedicated to honor the millions of women who worked for more than seven decades to win the vote:

 The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.