MABEL VERNON, “THE PICKETING CAMPAIGN NEARS VICTORY” (7 DECEMBER 1917)
- The Library of Congress provides a wonderful resource for the study of the National Woman’s Party on their American Memory website: Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. For pictures of the NWP and their campaign for suffrage, begin at the Collection Home (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/index.html). This page provides an overview of the NWP and a list of site offerings to the left of the page. You are able to browse the collection by title or subject. The title browser provides an alphabetical listing of the title of each picture. These are very precise descriptions and useful if you want to move through the collection with a description of each slide. However, if you are looking for a particular topic, then you will find the subject browser (also arranged alphabetically) much easier to use. “Picketing,” for example, provides 47 pictures of the picket campaign.
- There are also links on the Library of Congress home page to three excellent essays: Historical Overview of the NWP (https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/historical-overview-of-the-national-womans-party/); Profiles: Selected Leaders of the National Woman’s Party (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem//collections/suffrage/nwp/profiles.html); and Tactics and Techniques of the National Woman’s Party Suffrage Campaign (https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/tactics-and-techniques-of-the-national-womans-party-suffrage-campaign/). Be sure to view the complete PDF version of each essay. Use the information in these essays and the available photographs to design a Powerpoint presentation on such topics as the following: 1. Trace the development of militant strategies in the NWP. 2. Do a rhetorical study of the messages on NWP banners and placards. 3. Describe the types of women attracted to militant action by studying the profiles of NWP leaders and members. 4. Follow the NWP’s switch, after suffrage was attained, to the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment.
- The Sewall-Belmont House, located on Capitol Hill, was formerly Alice Paul’s Washington home and now serves as the museum dedicated to preserving the history of the National Woman’s Party. Their website (http://www.sewallbelmont.org/) is in the process of constructing an on-line exhibit of the cartoons of Nina Allender. Allender was the talented “official cartoonist” of the NWP and her cartoons were generally displayed on the front page of The Suffragist. Once the cartoons are made readily available, refer to them to try and answer the following questions: 1. Nina Allender (1872-1957) provided a distinct image of the suffragist as the New Woman of the twentieth century. How would you describe the “Allender Girl” (as she was known)? In what way might this portrayal positively affect the self-image of NWP members? Is this image a break with the past or is it a neo-traditional view of woman? 2. Characters that repeat in Allender’s cartoons include Uncle Sam, an often wayward donkey, Woodrow Wilson, and the suffragist. How do the Allender cartoons reflect actual events in the suffrage campaign? 3. Nina Allender spends considerable time with the character of President Wilson. How does the cartoon portrayal of Wilson change over time and as the NWP entered into the picketing campaign?
- There are many topics connected to the National Woman’s Party that lend themselves to classroom debate. Divide into teams to write a formal proposition and conduct a debate based around the following topics: 1. The suffragists of the NWP were accused of treason and attacked by angry mobs for picketing the White House and accusing President Wilson of hypocrisy during World War I. (To understand the free speech issues of the NWP, see Haig Bosmajian, “The Abrogation of the Suffragists’ First Amendment Rights,” Western Journal of Speech Communication, Fall, (1974): 218 – 232). An analogous situation occurred recently when the Dixie Chicks expressed their disagreement with the Iraq War and said they were ashamed that President George W. Bush was from their home state. The Dixie Chicks were removed from the playlists of country stations through an organized boycott, had their CD’s burned by angry crowds, and received death threats. What should be the extent of free speech during wartime? 2. Is a militant wing needed in a reform movement in order to force those in power to deal with moderate reformers within the same movement? Would we have gained suffrage in 1920 without the picketing campaign of the NWP? Would the moderates of the Civil Rights Movement have achieved so much without the existence of black militants? Are environmental reforms, anti-abortion reforms, or animal welfare reforms gained because of pressure by the radical edge of those movements, the moderates of the movement, or a combination of the two?
- Iron-Jawed Angels is a dramatization of the National Woman’s Party’s campaign that was produced for HBO and starred Hilary Swank as Alice Paul. It is now readily available on DVD. Because of flaws and inaccuracies in the drama, including an embarrassing portrayal of a love affair that never took place and unflattering portrayals of Carrie Chapman Catt and other suffrage moderates, I cannot recommend the entire movie. However, some of the scenes of actual events are accurate, and Brooke Smith does a nice job as Mabel Vernon. The scenes of the 1913 suffrage parade, conditions in the Occoquin workhouse, and the initial pickets at the White House are pretty strong. Still better, and certainly worth watching, are the scenes of the Night of Terror and the later scenes of Alice Paul’s arrest, hunger strike, and forcible feeding. 1. After viewing scenes from the movie, write a personal essay describing a political issue in which you strongly believe. What would you, as an individual, be willing physically to endure for your cause? 2. Write an essay comparing the arrests and prison treatment of reformers of the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement to the arrests and prison treatment of the suffragists.
- The campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment was the great unfinished campaign of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party. Examine the history of the ERA and see if you can determine why this campaign failed when suffrage succeeded.
- The Women’s Social and Political Union (the British militants) had a tremendous impact on the suffrage campaign in this country. Why did the WSPU turn to a program of actual violence while the NWP avoided violence in their campaign for the vote? Is there something distinctive about the way that legislation is passed in Britain (as opposed to America) that might have led the WSPU to believe that violence could be effective?
- “Black Friday” and the violence that the suffragettes received on that day was a turning point for the British movement. Compare “Black Friday” with the attack on the 1913 Washington, D.C. suffrage parade and the “Night of Terror” in the American movement. What was the impact of these incidents of violence on the British and American suffrage activists?
- To continue the comparison between the British and American movements, examine the deaths of Emily Wilding Davison (British) and Inez Milholland (American) and the funerals that were held for both women. See the National Women’s History Museum site, https://www.nwhm.org/, for material on Inez Milholland. What do you believe is the impact of a martyr upon a reform movement?
- Gandhi was strongly influenced by the British suffrage movement, particularly the passive resistance of the non-violent Women’s Freedom League. Martin Luther King, Jr. was strongly influenced in his use of passive resistance by the example of Gandhi. Examine the development of passive resistance techniques throughout the twentieth century.
- Alice Paul provided single-minded vision and leadership for the National Woman’s Party. Compare her style of leadership to other leaders of reform movements that conduct passive resistance campaigns.
- The NWP considered themselves the political heirs of the more activist stance taken by Susan B. Anthony when she was arrested for voting in the 1872 presidential election. Examine the case of United States v. Susan B. Anthony (1873) to understand this early act of political defiance and the way that it served as a test case for the 14th Amendment and women’s rights as citizens.
- The campaign for suffrage in the early twentieth century had an impact on advertising and popular culture of the time. Conduct a study of non-suffrage papers and women’s magazines for indications of commercial products and advertisements that use suffragists in positive or negative ways to sell their products.
- The anti-suffragists, in their visual and verbal arguments, are just as interesting as the suffragists. Research the “antis” and develop an overall view of their arguments and strategies in opposing woman suffrage.
- The Suffragists Oral History Project, conducted in the early 1970s, tape-recorded interviews with twelve activists in the Woman Suffrage movement. Among the twelve is a delightful interview with Mabel Vernon. This interview is available in transcript online at http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt2r29n5pb/. Use this transcript to construct a firsthand view of the emotional experience of a participant in a militant reform movement.
- From the eight texts available online at the Suffragists Oral History Project (http://ark.cdlib.org/?mode=oac-text;sort=title;relation=roho%2B–%2Bsuffragists;sort=title), choose three interviews and compare their perspectives on actual events from the suffrage campaign. What does this comparison tell you about the construction of public memory years after an event?
- Some members of the NWP assumed that winning the vote would also open the door for women to take their place in politics. In 2006, women hold 15.1 percent of the seats in the 109th U.S. Congress, 15.4 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, and 14 percent of the seats in the U. S. Senate. Research the women serving in the current Congress and the history of women in Congress by going to the Center for American Women and Politics (http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/). Do you believe that the NWP would be pleased with the number of women currently serving in Congress or disappointed in the numbers?
- Choose a woman currently serving in the U.S. Congress and visit her official website. With the exception of such obvious elements as photographs and biography, could you tell that this was the website of a woman? What elements in the visual and verbal rhetoric of the site (if any) are different than those of a Congressman of the same age and from the same region of the country?
- During conservative times, there is an emphasis in popular culture on the differences between men and women. This was readily apparent in the 1950s and is apparent again during the current conservative time since 1980. Thus, we have seen an emphasis in science on “brain sex” and books have become bestsellers which describe men and women as basically from different planets. Conduct a study of commercials, advice shows, or primetime comedies and dramas to see if differences are still emphasized or if the pendulum is shifting toward a view of the common humanity of men and women.
- Find a speech by a woman running in the current (or a recent) election cycle. Choose a woman running against a man for a seat formerly held by a man. Do a rhetorical criticism of that speech looking for appeals to expediency versus appeals to natural rights as a justification for her election. If both of these are missing, do you believe that we have moved past the issue of whether a woman is qualified to hold political office?
- At the time of this writing, there is speculation that Hillary Rodham Clinton will run for President in the 2008 election. Conduct a study of articles and editorials that analyze her chances for the presidency. How do these articles discuss her gender and the chances of a woman to become President? Despite the fact that many men have served as Commander-in-Chief who have not served in the military (or in a war), does the Commander-in-Chief aspect of the job make the Presidency the final male political bastion? On a related topic, Nancy Pelosi has recently become the first female Speaker of the House. Conduct a similar study of articles and editorials discussing her style and leadership as Speaker. To what extent do issues of gender enter into the assessment of Pelosi’s effectiveness as Speaker?
- There was disagreement at the time of the passage of the 19th Amendment as to whether women would vote in a substantially different way than men. Fears of a “petticoat government,” where women would have the majority vote and change the country in radical ways, was a concern of many. Conduct a study of voting patterns over time (or during recent elections) to see if this “gender gap” really has existed.
- Others claim that the real change following woman suffrage is that women’s and children’s issues are given an importance that was missing when women did not possess the power of the vote. Examine the change in reforms that came before and after the 19th Amendment to see if this concept is true. Look into attempts to mobilize women (such as the Million Mom March for gun control) to see if there are specific “women’s issues” today.
- What is the public memory of the twentieth century suffrage movement? Search for any monuments, memorials, or museums dedicated particularly to the militant suffragists. Also search for inclusion of the suffrage movement in history textbooks geared to the elementary, middle, and high school levels. How are the members of the NWP and their picketing campaign portrayed? Are the questionable charges, long sentences, and prison treatment of the suffragists discussed? Is there a tendency to discuss the nineteenth century suffragists (particularly Anthony and Stanton) or the moderates of NAWSA rather than the militants of the NWP? Is the 19th Amendment presented as a “reward” granted by the government for women’s support in World War I (a reading which largely nullifies the entire 70 years of the suffrage movement)?
Last updated June 15, 2016.