Today in Feminist History: Paul Proposes Picketing (June 3, 1920)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

June 3, 1920: Alice Paul arrived in Chicago today and immediately announced that there would be women picketing outside the Republican National Convention each day it’s in session here next week unless a 36th—and final—State ratification is obtained for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

PHOTO: Members of the National Woman’s Party standing outside their national headquarters in Washington, D.C., displaying one of the banners they were about to pack up and take to next week’s Republican National Convention. Alice Paul is standing above the word “woman” in the banner, which reads: ” ‘No self-respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex.’ Susan B. Anthony 1872 and 1894.”

The proposed 19th Amendment reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” and “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Paul is aware of the fact that a resolution supporting the Anthony Amendment will be passed by the convention delegates, but said:

“We are not content with words on suffrage which are not backed by party pressure. We are protesting against the continued disenfranchisement of women, for which the Republican Party has now become responsible, and are demanding that the Republican Party secure ratification immediately in one more State so that millions of women may vote in the Presidential election.”

It had been hoped that the Republican-controlled Delaware Legislature would have ratified by now, but yesterday the Delaware Assembly refused by 24-10 to even vote on the ratification resolution, then it adjourned for the year. In Vermont and Connecticut, there are believed to be enough votes in their State legislatures to ratify, but because both have already ended their regular sessions, they can only meet again this year if called into “special session” by their Republican governors. Both have refused to issue the call, despite intense lobbying.

It’s as ironic as it is frustrating that the party which has done by far the most for suffrage is now starting to be seen as the party blocking it just short of victory. The Anthony Amendment was first introduced into Congress by Republican Senator Aaron Sargent of California on January 10, 1878. When the amendment was passed for the final time by the House on May 21, 1919, the vote was 102 Democrats in favor and 70 opposed, their support level of 59 percent falling short of the two-thirds needed. But 200 Republicans voted in favor, and just 19 were opposed, so their 91 percent support pushed the measure to well over the two-thirds needed. The final vote was 304-89, 42 more than the 262-131 required for passage by the 393 members present and voting, with one Farmer-Labor Party member and one Prohibitionist Party member providing two of the favorable votes.

When the Senate voted on the Anthony Amendment on June 4, 1919, there were 20 Democrats in favor and 17 opposed (54 percent support) with 36 Republicans in favor and 8 against (81.8 percent support), giving the measure two votes more (56-25) than were needed for passage by two-thirds (54-27) of the 81 Senators present and voting.

Once passed by Congress, the Anthony Amendment went to the 48 State legislatures for ratification. The Constitution requires approval by three-fourths, which works out to 36. Of the 35 that have ratified so far, 26 have Republican legislatures, six are Democratic, and in the remaining three, one party controls the Senate, the other the House. 

Reaffirming its strong and traditional support for equal suffrage, the Republican National Committee passed the following resolution just two days ago:

“Whereas, the Republican National Committee at its regular meeting has repeatedly undorsed woman suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and has called upon Congress to pass, and the States to ratify such an amendment; and

“Whereas, such amendment still lacks ratification by a sufficient number of States to become law, therefore be it

“Resolved, By the Republican National Committee, that the Nineteenth Constitutional amendment be and the same is hereby indorsed by this committee, and such Republican States as have not already done so are now urged to take such action by their Governors and their legislators as will assure the ratification of such amendment and establish the right of equal suffrage at the earliest possible time.”

But an Anthony Amendment with only 35 ratifications wins the vote for no one, so the pressures and tactics which have gotten suffrage this far must be kept up, and even increased as registration deadlines in States where women cannot presently vote approach. According to Alice Paul, 10,000 letters have been sent by the National Woman’s Party to suffrage supporters in and around Chicago asking them to take part in the upcoming protest. So when the Republican Convention opens on June 8, delegates and party leaders may have to walk through a large number of picketers, all asking why the party is giving the appearance of support for Constitutionally banning sex discrimination at the ballot box, but not providing ratification by a 36th State for an amendment that would guarantee such a result.

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David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.