1917 October 20

Suffragist Alice Paul Arrested For Picketing White House


Women’s suffrage leader Alice Paul and three colleagues were arrested on this day for picketing the White House on behalf of women’s suffrage. Calling themselves “Silent Sentinels,” the purposefully went to the White House gates when staff were leaving work. A large crowd gathered, with some people cheering and other jeering. She was then sentenced to seven months in jail in the Occoquan Workhouse, located in Virginia.

On November 5th, she and other suffrage protesters began a 22-day hunger strike to protest their arrest and confinement. Paul was then separated from the other suffragist prisoners and placed in the psychiatric ward at the distridt jail. See November 15, 1917, for the “Night of Terror,” when jailed suffragists were brutalized in the jail.

The publicity surrounding the arrests and hunger strike led to the release of most of the prisoners, including Alice Paul. It is not clear that President Woodrow Wilson influenced the release, but there are indications that he was embarrassed by the negative publicity and wanted it ended. Wilson soon changed his position on the issue of suffrage, and on January 9, 1918, publicly supported the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote. It was ratified on August 18, 1920, and women voted for the first time in all state and national elections, including the presidential election, on November 2, 1920.

Alice Paul had organized a series of White House protests beginning in 1913 (March 3, 1913), and her campaign intensified in 1917 (January 10, 1917; April 2, 1917; August 11, 1917. The pressure of these militant protests, which alienated moderate suffragists, was instrumental in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Alice Paul is also known for drafting and introducing the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have granted equality to women (July 21, 1923).

Learn about Alice Paul: Jill Zahniser and Amelia Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (2014)

Watch an interview about Alice Paul and President Wilson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Yn2D1ukQC4

Learn more about Alice Paul: Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot (2010)

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

Watch the film about Alice Paul and her protests: Iron Jawed Angels (2004) (with Hilary Swank as Alice Paul)

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