Live-Blogging Women’s History: March 5, 1919

March 5, 1919: The “Prison Special” arrived tonight in Chicago.

The special railroad car, chartered by the National Woman’s Party to carry suffragists who have served jail time, left Washington, D.C., on February 15. It has given these brave activists a chance to state their case to huge crowds and numerous reporters. They have used the opportunity to detail their prison ordeals and explain why they have had to resort to ever more militant–though non-violent–tactics [PDF], such as burning the President’s speeches in large ceremonial urns in front of the White House.

The goal is to secure Congressional action on the stalled suffrage amendment, which failed by a single vote in the Senate on February 10, and show that President Wilson and his Democratic party are responsible for its failure thus far. The president could surely have coaxed the deciding vote from a member of his own party had he chosen to exert his full influence.

The tour has been a big hit ever since its first stop in Charleston, S.C., where it generated the biggest mass meeting in the city’s history. Upon arriving here tonight, Lucy Burns recounted her experience with force-feeding in jail:

I had been fasting for six days and nights when they started in on me. It was a terrible experience, a horrible attempt to break my will. Five men and two women were employed in doing it. The men would pin me to the floor, several of them holding my arms by my sides. If I struggled they would sit upon me. And while the men held me the women would insert a tube in my mouth through which a fluid of egg and milk would be forced into my stomach. I was weak from the fasting, but whenever I was strong enough I would refuse to let them insert the tube into my mouth. At such times they would insert it in the nose and force the fluid into my stomach that way. Food so taken is not nourishing. It was not meant to be. It was done simply to break my will.

Other women on the train have equally compelling stories, and all will be at a mass meeting in the Congress Hotel tomorrow night, though some will make a quick trip to Milwaukee in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the National Woman’s Party’s struggles continue. Last night in New York, some members who were peacefully demonstrating outside President Wilson’s speech at the Metropolitan Opera House were assaulted by police, soldiers and sailors. The women had gathered from around the nation to express indignation that the president was leaving the country to campaign for democracy abroad while letting the Constitutional amendment that would bring democracy to America’s women languish.

Photo of policeman in Syracuse welcoming Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer and Miss Vida Milholland upon the arrival of Prison Special from Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

  1. To hear the history books tell it, you'd have thought the suffragists just stood around carrying pretty banners and wearing flowery hats until men decided to give them the vote out of their innate sense of chivalry. I've read other accounts that they were sexually abused in jails too, which isn't terribly surprising, sadly; it's pretty much SOP when you want to put a woman in her place.

    • Absolutely right ! The fact that so much of women's history is either overlooked or trivialized is why I like writing these accounts of what they actually went through to win the rights many take for granted today. I've been doing these "This Day In Feminist History" blogs on my Facebook page since November, and from November 13th to 28th I did day-by-day accounts of the ordeals of the suffragists in Occoquan Workhouse and the D.C. District Jail. Then from January 22nd to February 2nd I covered the trials and imprisonments of birth control pioneers. Women were not "given" the vote or reproductive rights, they fought for and won them. So if rights are not to be lost in 2011, reminders are needed about that history of struggle and the need to keep fighting just as hard today !

      • Thanks David for refusing to allow these struggles to be forgotten. It always amazes me how many young people have no sense of what these Women endured and that the struggle lasted 75 years. I’m sure if the present GOP-TP has it’s way, these stories will never make it back into the history education of our citizens. I’m sure these valiant Women and their accomplishments won’t go over looked by the revisionists in their attempts to re-write history. They never fail to reiterate how we should be grateful that the Men gave us the right to vote.

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