Women of Protest: A Feminist History Refresher
It wasn’t until 1920 that women were granted suffrage, but it was 1917 when members of the National Women’s Party — Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others — picketed outside the White House, burning copies of Woodrow Wilson’s speeches and demanding the right to vote. What resulted — mass arrests (most for “obstructing traffic”), unlawful imprisonment and bloody beatings — became known as the Night of Terror, though it’s fair to say most among my generation don’t know it.
The Night of Terror took place on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Workhouse Prison, in Occoquan, Virginia, ordered his guards to teach the suffragists a lesson. For weeks, the women’s only water had come from an open pail. Their food had been infested with worms. But on this night, some 40 prison guards wielding clubs beat the women senseless — grabbing, dragging, choking, kicking and pinching them, according to affidavits recounting the attacks.
* Lucy Burns (bottom left) was beaten, then chained to her cell bars and left hanging for the night.
* Dora Lewis (bottom center) was hurled into a dark cell, her head smashed against an iron bed. (Her cellmate suffered a heart attack.)
* Alice Paul (bottom right) attempted a huger strike, but was tied to a cell chair and force fed with a tube down her throat. Another woman was allegedly stabbed between the eyes with the wood from her broken picket sign.
The beatings made national news, and two weeks later, the protesters were released. (The DC Court of Appeals declared their punishment and arrests unconstitutional.) But it would take three more years for women to win the right to vote.
—This is an edited, fact-checked and condensed version of an email making its way around the web. Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A FEMINIST REMINDER: DON’T TAKE YOUR VOTING RIGHTS FOR GRANTED.