Women’s Suffrage Movement, Why Women Should Vote and the “Iron Jawed Angels”-Truth!


Summary of eRumor:

An email that tells the story of the Women’s Suffrage Movement that fought for the right for women to vote and the Home Box Office movie called “Iron Jawed Angels” that aired on television.  It tells of the “Night of Terror” in 1917 when women were arrested for protesting at the White House, beaten and tortured and says that it as a reminder for all to vote.
The Truth:

This email covers only part of the story.   Women’s rights had been an issue throughout the early history of the United States along with the abolition of slavery. There is a complete timeline posted on the Library of Congress web site in a section dedicated to The National American Woman’s Suffrage Association collection consisting of 167 books, pamphlets and other artifacts documenting the suffrage campaign.  The Library of Congress timeline begins with Abigail Adams who wrote a memo to her husband in 1776 to remind the Continental Congress while they were drafting the Constitution of the United States to “remember the ladies.” It wasn’t until after the civil war and the abolishment of slavery in the US that the women’s movement began to gain momentum as the next battle for civil rights.

In 1866 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Association, an organization dedicated to the goal of universal suffrage.

In 1872 Susan B. Anthony was arrested and fined $100 for trying to enter a polling place to vote for Ulysses S Grant.  Former slave, Sojourner Truth showed up at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot but was turned away. According to the case posted in the University of Kansas City Law School Anthony never paid her fine and “no serious effort was made by the government to collect it.”

In 1878 A Woman Suffrage Amendment  was introduced in the United States Congress proposing “The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” but was not ratified by Congress until August 18, 1920.  

In 1913 Teddy Roosevelt adopted the woman’s suffrage cause as a plank on his Bull Moose Party platform when he ran for a third term for President of the United States.

Throughout the course of time there were many groups and conventions promoting the right to vote for women.   Lucy Burns and Alice Paul organized the Congressional Union eventually changing the name to the National Women’s Party which got them noticed.  Their tactics were more radical and militant than the groups that preceded them and included hunger strikes, picketing the White House, and engaging in other forms of civil disobedience to publicize the suffrage cause.

In 1917 members of the movement staged a massive protest in front of the Whitehouse in Washington DC.  Hundreds of women were arrested on charges of “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”  Many were convicted and sentenced to prison at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia.  

In 2004 HBO (Home Box Office) produced and released the docudrama “Iron Jawed Angels” staring Hillary Swank as Alice Paul and Frances O’Connor as Lucy Burns.  It gives an account of the history of the movement and does show Lucy Burns, who went on a hunger strike during her incarceration, being forced fed through a tube down her throat.

Doris Stevens (1892-1963) wrote her firsthand account of treatment and conditions in which the suffragists were held at the Occoquan Workhouse in 1917 in a book called “Jailed for Freedom”  and it can be found at the Gutenberg Project website, a collection of writing that were produced by tens of thousands of volunteers.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin Act into law making her the first woman to be honored by having her likeness appear on a circulating United States coin.

Click here for the University of Kansas Law School “Trial of Susan B. Anthony”

Click here for Doris Steven’s “Jailed for Freedom” on Gutenberg.

Click here for the National Archives and Records Administration history of the 19th Amendment

Click here for the Library of Congress page

Click here for the HBO Ironed Jawed Angles page

posted 09/08/08

Subject: for women voters   This is the story of our Grandmothers, and Great-grandmothers, as they lived only 90 years ago.  It was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.   The women who made it so were innocent and defenseless. 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 Burn, 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 cellmate, 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 our  to the press.   So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because–why,  exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?   Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO ‘s new movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels.’ It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am  ashamed to say I needed the reminder.   All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it  was inconvenient.   My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked  angry. She was–with herself. ‘One thought kept coming back to me as I  watched that movie,’ she said. ‘What would those women think of the way I  use–or don’t use–my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.’   The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her ‘all over again.’  HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not  voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock  therapy is in order.    It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. 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.’     Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.    We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women .  Whether you vote democratic,  republican or independent party – remember to vote.   History is being made