As elections approach, it would probably do us some good to look at the story of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago. It would do us some good to remember that it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. And, it would do us some good to remember the price some of these paid for this freedom.
November 15, 1917 – NIGHT OF TERROR
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, 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 cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and 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 Nov. 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.
Woodrow Wilson and his cronies tried to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. The doctor refused. 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.”
Some women won’t vote this year because–why, exactly? We have carpool duties? Our kids have soccer or dance? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining? If for no other reason, vote out of respect for ANY of those who have suffered for our rights to do so.
( -opinions my own, factual information desseminated courtesy of Virginia League of Women Voters)