The Silent Sentinels

During the presidency of Woodrow WIlson, suffrage was a hot topic. Women fought for their right to vote.

One organization fighting for the rights of women was the National Woman’s Party formed by Alice Paul.

Paul was born January 11, 1885 in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Her mother was a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1907, Paul moved to England and worked with the Women’s Social and Political Union. The WSPU was much more radical than the AWSA. Paul would continue these more radical tactics when forming the NWP.

On January 9, 1917, the NWP met with Woodrow who told them that suffrage was a state issue, not a federal one.

Unhappy with this sentiment, the women began a protest on January 10. They stood silently outside the White House 6 days a week. Their goal was for the president to be reminded of the demand for suffrage every time he left his residence.

At first, the president would wave at the women and instructed security to leave them alone was long as their protest was peaceful.

The women carried banners with messages to the president like “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” Others were quotes from Woodrow, such as “The time has come to conquer or submit, for us there can be but one choice. We have made it.” Eventually, the messages got more malicious. Some compared the president to Kaiser Wilhelm, calling him Kaiser Wilson.

People attacked the women and ripped up their signs.

On June 22, Lucy Burns and Katherine Morey were arrested for obstructing traffic. 3 days later, 12 more women were arrested on the same charge. The women were given a choice of 3 days in jail or a $10 fine. To draw more attention to their cause, the women chose jail.

They were sent to the Occoquan Workhouse. The conditions there were atrocious. It was dirty and the inmates were sick. Worms were often found in the food.

The women continued to protest and continued to be arrested. Alice was arrested on October 20. She was sentenced to 7 months in the workhouse and was in solitary confinement for 2 weeks. The women in Occoquan went on a hunger strike.

The prison doctors force fed the women raw eggs and milk through tubes up their noses.

November 14 became known as the Night of Terror. The women were chained to their cells, beaten and abused. One woman suffered a heart attack from the shock.

All the women were released in late November.

On January 8,1918, Woodrow announced federal support of the suffrage amendment, but it didn’t pass a Senate vote.

The women became even more radical. They burned a statue of Woodrow at the White House.

Finally, the suffrage amendment passed the House and Senate on June 4, 1919. That was the last day of the Silent Sentinel protest at the White House.

The 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920 by Tennessee. The amendment passed by just one vote. Harry Burn who originally opposed the amendment was persuaded to vote for it by his mother. She sent a telegram encouraging him to “put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

A video summary of this week’s post can be found at

Sources/Photo Credits

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