1917 January 10

Alice Paul Begins Picketing White House Again for Women’s Suffrage


Women’s suffrage leader Alice Paul began leading picketers (whom they called “Silent Sentinels”) in front of the White House gates on this day, demanding a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. Wilson had met with a delegation of 300 suffragists the day before. He refused to support women’s suffrage and finally walked out on the group.

Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National American Women’s Suffrage Assocation (NAWSA), the larger and moderate suffrage group, stated that picketing the White House was “an error” on the part of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party.

In early 1917, with Woodrow Wilson about to be inaugurated for a second term as president, she launched a more aggressive campaign, which began on this day. On April 2, 1917 Paul and her allies picketed Congress while President Wilson gave his famous speech asking for a declaration of war. The picketing continued throughout the year, and Paul and other members of the National Woman’s Party were arrested on October 20, 1917. While in jail, Paul and some others conducted a hunger strike, which apparently embarrassed the president (see November 15, 1917).

The militant tactics worked, and Wilson changed his mind and finally supported a suffrage amendment on January 9, 1918. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, and women voted for the first time in all state and presidential elections, including the election for president, for the first time on November 2, 1920.

Alice Paul is also famous for drafting and introducing the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have granted equality to women (July 21, 1923). The ERA was voted on several times in the 1940s and 1950s, but never secured the required number of votes for a proposed Constitutional amendment. In a very different political climate, it passed Congress on March 22, 1972, and was sent to the states for ratification. After quickly securing a number of state ratifications, however, it ran into fierce neo-conservative opposition and died.

Read Alice Paul’s Oral History: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt6f59n89c/

Read Paul’s biography: Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot (2010)

Watch the NOW documentary Who Was Alice Paul?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fctY7-1BqA

Learn About Suffragist White House Protests at the White House Historical Association: http://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha_tours/citizens_soapbox/protest_02-suffragists.html

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