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 11, 1920: Alice Paul has just escalated the war of words taking place outside the Republican National Convention!
When National Woman’s Party pickets first stood outside the gates of Chicago’s Coliseum three days ago, most carried the party’s purple, white and gold standards, while some held up banners of an “educational” nature. Passersby were informed that it was a Republican legislature in Delaware that had recently rejected ratification of the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment, and it is Republican governors who are refusing to call special sessions of the Vermont and Connecticut legislatures. In both these States it is believed that a majority of legislators are eager to provide the 36th and final ratification needed for victory, but because their regular sessions are over, and they’ve adjourned, neither legislature can meet until next year unless called into special session by its governor.
Now, however, the message printed on all the large banners held by Alice Paul and the other N.W.P. members is simple, uniform, and explicitly partisan:
“VOTE AGAINST THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AS LONG AS IT BLOCKS SUFFRAGE.”
This is not a new tactic for the National Woman’s Party. Four years ago it attacked Democrats with banners saying:
“VOTE AGAINST WILSON – HE OPPOSES NATIONAL WOMAN SUFFRAGE,”
And satirized his campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war” with banners reading:
“VOTE AGAINST WILSON – HE KEPT US OUT OF SUFFRAGE.”
Needless to say, no political party welcomes criticism, so there is some heckling of the protesters by G.O.P. delegates as they pass by on their way into the convention. But so far there is nothing like the near-riot in 1916 when a mob attacked the N.W.P.’s anti-Wilson banner-bearers outside a Chicago auditorium where the President was speaking, or the repeated attacks by crowds on the party’s “Silent Sentinels” who picketed President Wilson by standing along the White House fence each day from 1917 to 1919.
According to Alice Paul, if the Republican Party does not deliver the 36th State, this week’s protests will be just the beginning. No matter who the Republican Presidential nominee may turn out to be, he will be trailed and picketed at all speaking engagements, and undergo hostile questioning at every meeting open to the public. All Republicans running for Congress this year will be vigorously opposed, in the same way all Democrats were opposed in 1916.
As to why Republicans—who have provided the vast majority of votes for passage and ratification of the Anthony Amendment—might suddenly be reluctant to have ratification occur before the November elections, Paul has a couple of theories.
Though the party as a whole has always been far more supportive of woman suffrage than Democrats, some very prominent Republicans are outspoken anti-suffragists. The party may fear defeat of these powerful lawmakers if women in their States can vote in the upcoming elections.
Republicans also seem concerned that most women may favor immediate entry of the U.S. into the League of Nations, something President Wilson and other Democrats have championed, while Republicans, led on this issue by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, have blocked. If women feel strongly enough about the League, a large “women’s vote” in November could put another Democrat in the White House to replace two-term, outgoing President Wilson.
But to Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, the reasons why the Republicans are suddenly failing to do their part to enfranchise tens of millions of women are irrelevant. Showing Republicans that it’s in their party’s best interests to finish the job of ratifying the proposed 19th Amendment is her concern:
“The winning of the thirty-sixth State has not been accomplished. More pressure from the Republican Party must be exerted to win it. We hold the Republican Party responsible for the delay in ratification. We are not concerned with the party’s record during the past on the suffrage issue. It is now blocking suffrage in Vermont and Connecticut where legislatures are ready to ratify and are not allowed to convene by their Republican governors. In no Democratic State does a similar situation exist.
“We intend to continue to show the Republican Party the effect of obstruction of suffrage on its political future. When Republican leaders become convinced that party expediency is involved in suffrage ratification, women will be enfranchised.”
Though there is no deadline in regard to the Anthony Amendment attaining the 36 out of 48 State ratifications needed, voter registration deadlines for the upcoming General Election on November 2 have already passed in two States where women cannot presently vote, and other registration deadlines are approaching in many more.
The longer victory is delayed, the more women who, for this year at least, will be deprived of their right to choose those who make the laws women as well as men must obey.
Republican lawmakers put the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments into the Constitution, and it’s now time to continue that proud tradition with a 19th!