This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers – only 90 years ago.
That is the beginning of a story continued below that has been floating around via email since about 2004. I had not seen it until Darlene Costner forwarded it a few days ago.
It’s not a new story for me. Over the years, I produced at least two television programs about the women’s suffrage movement and I am knowledgeable about the people involved in and details of the decades-long fight. However, this rendition reawakened me.
Maybe that is because these days in our deeply divided nation, I so frequently hear or read (on this blog, too) of people who say they will not vote under this or that circumstance. Oh how easily some throw away what was so painfully won.
There is no way to credit the woman who created the story and sent it on its way; no one knows her name. So let’s just be grateful for the reminder.
I suspect the photographs are public domain. The words are those of our anonymous writer. In a couple of places I have added some commentary which, like this introduction, appears in italic so you’ll know the difference.
And men, there is good reason for you to read this story too because even if you are not much interested in women’s history, today it is you, along with women, who are being denied the right to vote.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, for carrying signs asking for the vote.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and she suffered a heart attack.
Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the “Night of Terror” on November 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food – all of it colorless slop – was infested with worms.
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
Ronni here. This is a clip of the scene depicting the forced feeding of Alice Paul from the HBO film, Iron Jawed Women.
So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because – why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?
Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie, Iron Jawed Angels. It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.
All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt
more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.
My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry and she was; with herself.
“One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,” she said. “What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.”
The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her “all over again.”
HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be
and I think a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy.
The doctor admonished the men: “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”
Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote Democratic, Republican or Independent party – remember to vote.
History is being made. Vote!
Ronni here again. No one today questions women’s right to vote, but throughout our nation, democracy is being undercut by Republican legislators who have passed local laws in numerous states making it difficult for young people, people of color, poor people and old people to vote.
It’s not women being denied this time, it is everyone. Men are in those four categories too.
These new laws carry such draconian penalties for minor errors in registration of voters (like delivering the paper not one minute later than 48 hours after signature) that both the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have canceled their voter registration campaigns in Florida. There are likely to be more cancellations in other states.
Are we really going to allow that to happen? Are you really not going to vote?
Our generation, old folks, may be uniquely qualified to remind people of how precious the vote is; some of our grandmothers – maybe mothers too – could not vote and may have told us about that first hand.
Let the story of our grandmother suffragists be our inspiration. The HBO film, Iron Jawed Angels, is strong motivation.
It is also a good movie and aside from a fictional and unnecessary love interest for Alice Paul, historically accurate. You can see it for free in 12 parts at YouTube beginning here. This is Part 1 to get you started:
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Mom and the Ants