Today in Feminist History: The National Woman’s Party Forced Out (July 27, 1917)

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.


July 27, 1917: Evicted!

As if the National Woman’s Party didn’t already have enough trouble due to increasingly outrageous sentences handed down in court to its “Silent Sentinels” for picketing President Wilson at the White House, the landlord has just decreed that the N.W.P. must be out of Cameron House within three months. The building on Lafayette Square, site of its 1915 convention, has been the party’s home since January 30, 1916, when the group was still called the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. 

The president of the Fidelity Trust Company of Philadelphia left no doubt that the reason for the eviction was purely political. William P. Gest told Abby Scott Baker, who heads the National Woman’s Party’s Political Committee, that it was the party’s allegedly “unpatriotic, improper and treasonable behavior” in displaying certain statements and questions on banners while picketing President Wilson that caused him to take this step.

But these dedicated suffragists are unlikely to be deterred by the landlord’s move. They have been picketing since January 10th, and have done so despite having encountered extreme cold, snow, rain, summer heat and humidity, criticism by more conservative suffrage groups, attacks by mobs, mass arrests, and jail sentences.

The National Woman’s Party’s message that President Wilson is being hypocritical by vigorously promoting democracy abroad while doing nothing to help the female half of his own country’s citizens win democracy’s most basic right seems to be getting through to more and more people thanks to a good deal of publicity. And the fact that just eight days ago Wilson pardoned a group of sixteen pickets who were serving sixty-day jail sentences shows that the protesters have gotten his attention and gained some degree of sympathy. But until Wilson’s sympathy turns to action, such as using his considerable influence on fellow Democrats to get the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification, the banner-bearers will continue to take up their posts along the White House fence.

“Leaving Cameron House is a matter of keen personal regret, for we are all fond of the place. Our getting out will not alter our plans in the least,” said Abby Scott Baker. Fortunately, the N.W.P. won’t be homeless. According to Baker: “We have had five houses in the vicinity of the White House offered to us already.”


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About

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.