1916 December 5

Suffragists Protest at President Wilson’s Annual Message to Congress


Suffragists demanding the right for women to vote protested both inside and outside while President Woodrow Wilson gave his annual address to Congress on this day. (In those years, what is now called the State of the Union address was given in December rather than January and was called the Message to Congress.) Five women secured seats in the front row of the balcony overlook the speech, and while President Wilson was speaking they unfurled a banner reading, “What will you do for woman suffrage?” A Senate Page tore down the banner. Wilson did not mention suffrage or the protest in his address.

Alice Paul’s suffragist group stepped up its picketing of the White House in the spring of 1917, including picketing Wilson’s address asking for a declaration of war for World War I, on April 2, 1917. The picketing became more aggressive in the summer and fall in 1917, and Alice Paul was arrested on October 20, 1917. In jail, she and others conducted a hunger strike (see November 15, 1917). An evidently embarrassed President Wilson arranged for her release from jail, and on January 9, 1918 he changed his position and publicly supported a constitutional amendment that would grant women the right to vote.

The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, and women voted for the first time in all state and national elections, including the election for president, for the first time on November 2, 1920.

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

Watch newsreel footage of the 1913 suffragist march on Washington:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8B8Zh48938

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/

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