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Two Women Against the President

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jun 07, 2017

Two women, Emma Goldman and Alice Paul, were causing President Woodrow Wilson and the United States government major headaches, and in June 1917 it was decided to silence them. Goldman was a Russian-born anarchist and editor of the magazine Mother Earth. In March she had stated her position on the war in Europe.

“At this most critical moment it becomes imperative for every liberty-loving person to voice a fiery protest against the participation of this country in the European mass-murder. If the opponents of war, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, would immediately join their voices into a thunderous No!, then the horror that now menaces America might yet be averted. Unfortunately it is only too true that the people in our so-called Democracy are to a large extent a dumb, suffering herd rather than thinking beings who dare to give expression to a frank, earnest opinion.”

Upon the United States’ declaration of war, Goldman turned her attention to stopping men from registering for the draft and, along with Alexander Berkman, held rallies against it. The New York Sun of June 16 explained, “Thursday night’s meeting in the Forward building on the East Side, wherein the two reds strained even their own vocabularies of denunciation in raving at President Wilson, Gov. Whitman, the United States and the law, brought the Goldman woman and Berkman to the end of the rope which a tolerant Government had been paying out to them. With a stenographic transcript of those speeches before them yesterday United States Attorney Caffey, Capt. Offley of the Department of Justice investigation bureau and Marshal McCarthy decided it was time to humor the pair and grant them the boon of arrest which they seemed to be coveting.”

A raid was carried out on the office of Mother Earth.

“… a joint warrant yesterday charges that since May 18 Berkman and the Goldman woman willfully and feloniously have conspired between themselves and with other persons to induce men between the ages of 21 and 30 to refuse to present themselves for registration under the selective conscription law.”

The Sun continued, “Not that anybody thought the anarchists would resist arrest, but for the sake of precaution Marshal McCarthy led a band of eight men to the Mother Earth office at 20 East 125th street. …

“‘Where’s Emma Goldman?’ asked the marshal.

“‘Upstairs,’ said the pale young man.

“‘Are you an anarchist?’


“‘Have you registered?’


“‘How old are you?’

“‘I think I better not say.’

“‘You’re under arrest.’

“‘All right.’

“Just then Goldman descended from the third floor. The marshal held up a paper.

“‘I have a warrant for your arrest,’ he said.”

Also seized as evidence was Goldman’s June article, which stated in part, “We oppose conscription because we are internationalists, anti-militarists and opposed to all wars waged by capitalistic Governments.

“We will fight for what we choose to fight for; we will never fight simply because we are ordered to fight.”

As Goldman was being led away in handcuffs, the government was about to deal with the other problem female, Alice Paul, a 32-year-old Quaker from Moorestown, N.J. Paul had been angered by President Wilson’s refusal to support a constitutional amendment giving women across the country the right to vote. In January 1917, she tried something that had never been done before.

The New York Times of Jan. 10 reported, “Women suffragists, representing all parts of the country disappointed over the result of an appeal which they made this afternoon to President Wilson in the East Room of the White House, held an indignation meeting and decided to adopt a new plan of campaign. They intend to post women pickets hereafter about the White House grounds. Their purpose is to make it impossible for the President to enter or leave the White House without encountering a picket bearing some device pleading the suffrage cause. The pickets will be known as ‘silent sentinels.’”

Paul gave the pickets their instructions.

“Stand at either side of the two gates with your backs to the wall. If the police interfere with you step from place to place on the sidewalk in front of the gate. If the police press you further go out to the curb and stand there; if they press you still further, move your lines into the gutter. If they won’t allow you to remain there, get in parade formation and march around the grounds, going from gate to gate.”

Over the next several months, Wilson tried to politely ignore the silent sentinels, but with the declaration of war there would be a stronger stance. On June 3, Carrie Catt of the National American Suffrage Association sent an open letter to Paul stating the picketing was “an unwarranted discourtesy to the President and a futile annoyance to members of Congress.”

“For the sake of the political freedom of women, and our hope of success in this country in the near future, I urge you, as head of your organization, to make our progress easier by removing your pickets, and with them a cause of hostility in the minds of people who would otherwise be friends of the suffrage movement.”

Paul was one “Jersey girl” who wouldn’t back down, and when it was learned that a delegation from the new Russian government that had overthrown the czar was to visit the White House, she had a special banner made stating, “To the Russian Mission:

“President Wilson and Envoy Root are deceiving Russia. They say, ‘We are a democracy. Help us win a world war so that democracies may survive.’

“We, the women of America, tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million American women are denied the right to vote. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement.

“Help us make this nation really free. Tell our Government that it must liberate its people before it can claim free Russia as an ally.”

The Washington Times reported on June 20 what happened as the banner arrived.

“The banner was carried to the White House gates shortly before 12:30 o’clock. … Almost immediately, however, a crowd gathered. At first the crowd was merely curious, but murmurs began spreading, and one man walked up to Miss Burns and said: ‘Take down that banner, or I’m through with woman suffrage for life.’ Mrs. Lewis attempted to argue with him but the man walked away. All through the crowd, men and women are copying the inscription on the banner. Soon the mutterings of ‘treason,’ and ‘It’s an outrage’ began growing louder.

“One man stepped in front of the crowd and shouted, ‘Won’t the police pull that thing down?’”

With the police and Secret Service watching, “Then, with the crowd at an angry pitch, a man named Walter S. Timmis, a New York architect, rushed at the sign, pushed back Miss Burns, and ripped the entire top part of the banner from its wooden frame work. In an instant, four men were at his heels, shredding the banner into bits.”

The silent sentinels stood their ground.

“Miss Burns and Mrs. Lewis were the storm center of a crowd of angry men and women. The crowd made no attempt to harm either of the two standard-bearers, who realized the futility of trying to save their banner. Both women, however, clung to their posts, holding the bare wooden framework between them for more than ten minutes after the banner had been ripped to pieces. Then they walked leisurely away in the direction of the headquarters.

“At the end of ten minutes two more banners were rushed to the scene of the rioting and these were erected instead of the dilapidated and ruined one. One of them read: ‘We demand democracy and self-government in our own land.’ The other one read: ‘Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?’”

Anarchist Emma Goldman had gone quietly to jail, but it would appear Wilson was going to have a bigger problem dealing with the fighting Jersey Quaker, Alice Paul.

Next Week: Barbed wire and battleships.


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