The Suffragette Movement: An Introduction

Title

The Suffragette Movement: An Introduction

Subject

A general overview of the development of the Congressional Union, its split from The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the first picketing of the White House and the response.

Description

In 1913 Alice Paul and Lucy Burns returned to the United States from the United Kingdom. The two women sought to create a political entity that would agitate for woman's suffrage at the federal level. For decades, the primary woman's suffrage association, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had focused on a campaign geared towards the granting of suffrage on a state by state basis. By 1913, just over a handful of states had granted women the right to vote and the suffrage movement suffered from a crisis of leadership as older leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were asked to step aside for a new generation of organizers. Carrie Chapman Catt was the president of NAWSA when Burns and Paul returned from England.

Paul and Burns had been radicalized in England by the aggressive and often violent suffrage movement they had joined and protested with. Emily Davison, a radical suffragette in England, had just thrown herself under the king's horse at the Epsom Derby. Killing herself in an attempt to draw attention to the suffrage movement. Below is a link to a short video of Davison at Epsom Derby that shows her walking onto the track and being struck by the king's horse.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH_r6-JpO9Q&feature=related

In this atmosphere of radical deeds in support of suffrage for women Paul and Burns sought to use the tactics they had learned in England to gain a media profile for themselves and their movement. Eschewing the violence of the English radicals their newly formed Congressional Union would focus on lobbying at the Federal level. The pair used their skills as promoters to put the national amendment for woman's suffrage on the front page. Planning huge rallies and gaudy parades the pair of Burns and Paul seemed to be getting great things done.

When the First World War came to American shores in 1916 indirectly, and directly with America's entry in 1917, the suffrage movement in the United States was torn. A choice was made to support the war and the Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson who had done nothing to advance the suffrage amendment, or to oppose the president because of his feet dragging on suffrage. NAWSA, led by Catt, chose to work wholeheartedly with the government even if it meant putting aside organizing for the suffrage campaigns across the states. The Congressional Union, led by Paul and Burns, would split off from NAWSA and continue to organize and agitate for woman's suffrage in America. Renamed the National Woman's Party, Paul and Burn's organization continued to grow in strength but its aggressive, however nonviolent, protesting earned it the ire of Woodrow Wilson.

Blatant in their support for the Republicans in 1916 the NWP had to focus on changing the path of a Democratic president and Congress it had tried to defeat at the polls. The organization eventually decided to use a mainstay of labor protests: the picket line. Furthermore, the organization proposed to picket the White House, something that had never been done before. At the time it was widely considered disrespectful and unpatriotic especially as it became clear that the country was going to war. The picketers were arrested by police, beaten by crowds, subject to the verbal and physical abuse of passersby and in one well known case they suffered a series of brutal beatings while incarcerated at the hands of the guards.

This social movement was the first of the liberation movements that would sweep the United States throughout the twentieth century. The effort of women like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to hold the Suffragist parade in Washington presaged that of the numerous marches on Washington throughout the past century. Picketing the White House led to the house's denigration as an untouchable symbol of the nation and many, many more protesters would march up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in the decades after Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were arrested outside the gates. Not only were these women pioneers in the rights of their sex, they were pioneers for all the groups excluded from their privileges and duties as citizens of the United States.

Creator

Steven Terry

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Citation

Steven Terry, “The Suffragette Movement: An Introduction,” The Suffragette Movement: Picketing the White House , accessed June 28, 2017, http://picketingpresidentwilson.omeka.net/items/show/18.