1919 January 1

Suffragists Stage First “Watch Fire” Demonstration in Front of White House


Suffragists led by Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party on this day greeted the New Year by conducting the first of several “Watch Fire” demonstrations in front of the White House, which involved burning copies of President Woodrow Wilson’s speeches in an urn. A second Watch Fire was conducted in Lafayette Park. Angry soldiers and sailors rushed the White House demonstration and overturned the urn. Suffragists rekindled the urn and kept it burning for several days.

Although President Wilson had announced his public support for a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote a year earlier (January 9, 1918), members of the National Woman’s Party did not believe he was lobbying vigorously enough for it.

The militant pro-suffrage tactics led by Alice Paul finally paid off. The Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote in all elections was ratified on August 18, 1920, and women voted in state and federal elections for the first time, including presidential elections, on November 2, 1920.

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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