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Welcome Home for the President

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Feb 13, 2019

On Feb. 10, 1919, the amendment designed to give all American women the vote failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, for the second time by only one vote. New Jersey’s Alice Paul, head of the National Woman’s Party, blamed President Wilson for not persuading more Democratic senators to vote yes. Her critics claimed her tactics of picketing and demonstrating in front of the White House for the amendment caused its failure and urged her to stop annoying the great man.

The New York Times of Feb. 11 predicted that when the new Congress met in March, with a Republican majority, things would be different.

“Miss Mary Garrett Hay, of the Republican women’s executive committee threw down the gage of battle as she took the afternoon train back to New York. … ‘The Democrats had their chance,’ she said. ‘They threw it away. The Republicans now are pledging that they will pass the amendment as soon as the next Congress convenes. As a Republican woman I trust that they will keep their faith with the women of America.’

“Mrs. Medill McCormick, chairman of the Republican Women’s Executive Committee said: ‘The Republican party will pass the Federal suffrage amendment as soon as the new Congress convenes.’”

On the same day, the New York Tribune explained the reality of the situation.

“The disappointment of the suffragists tonight centres in the fact that their bill, must now be reintroduced before both Houses of the new Congress will convene in March.

“Unless Congress does convene at once, and unless the suffrage amendment is given right of way and is rushed through both Houses at the earliest possible date, it cannot be referred to the Legislature of the states for ratification this spring. Next spring only a few Legislatures will be in session, and it will be impossible to obtain ratification by the necessary thirty-six states before the presidential elections. The prophecy of Mrs. Carrie Chapmen Catt last January, that women would be voting all over the United States by 1920 hangs on a very slender thread to-night.”

The head of the New Jersey suffrage movement lashed out in the Trenton Times at the state’s senator who voted no.

“Evidently the 29 men who voted against the measure are deficient both in national pride and appreciation of American women. … It is not very flattering of Mr. Baird to put New Jersey women in the same class with Asiatics and Hottentots. … We are disappointed that the amendment could not have passed because it would have been ratified by our Legislature as we have a majority in both houses pledged to vote for it. However, we will be even stronger next year. … The reactionary politicians may be able to temporarily defeat a suffrage resolution, but nothing they can do will lessen the resolutions of the suffragists. President Wilson and his party could have secured the one vote necessary. The President’s record will not be clear unless the suffrage action Monday is reversed before March 4.”

While everyone was saying wait till next year, one voice shouted not so fast, it isn’t over, over here. Miss Paul in a message stated, “The Democratic administration for the third time permitted the suffrage amendment to go down to defeat. President Wilson and his party could have secured the one vote necessary. The President’s record will not be clear unless the suffrage action Monday is reversed before March 4. The time is short, but if Kaisers can be overthrown in the brief space of a few days, it should be possible to enfranchise the women of America before this Congress ends.”

Paul’s new plan was twofold: first, to send a special prison train carrying women who had been imprisoned across the nation to give speeches telling of the horrors they had faced at the government’s hands. Second, as President Wilson was scheduled to sail from Europe after negotiating the peace treaty ending World War I, they would arrange to have a warm reception for him.

On Feb. 14, Paul telegraphed from the prison’s special train.  

“Largest theatre in Charleston packed to capacity. Two overflow meetings held outside, where streets leading to doors were packed with people to exclusion of street traffic; in fact, the largest gathering of any sort ever known in Charleston. … President Wilson’s decision to land in Boston, instead of New York, does not alter the plans of the National Woman’s Party, according to information received at the local headquarters. The party proposes to have the President’s path from the ship lined with banner bearers, all of whom have served jail sentences for the suffrage cause.”           

Doris Stevens was one of the Boston organizers.

“It was announced that the President would return to America on February 24th. That would leave seven days in which he could act before the session ended on March 3rd. … Wishing the whole world to know that women were greeting President Wilson, why they were greeting him, and what form of demonstration the greetings would assume, we announced our plans in advance. Upon his arrival a line of pickets would hold banners silently calling to the president’s attention the demand for his effective aid. In the afternoon they would hold a meeting in Boston Common and there burn the parts of the President’s Boston speech which should pertain to democracy and liberty.”

The announcement of the plans gave officials time to prepare, according to Stevens. “A ‘deadline’ a diagram of which appeared in the press, was to be established beyond which no suffragist, no matter how enterprising, could penetrate to harass the over-worked President with foolish ideas about the importance of liberty for women. … It was a perfect day. Lines of marines whose trappings shone brilliantly in the clear sunshine were in formation to hold back the crowds from the Reviewing stand where the President should appear. … A slender file of twenty-two women marched silently into the sunshine, flipped through the ‘deadline’ and made its way to the base of the Reviewing stand. There it unfurled its beautiful banners and took up its post directly facing the line of marines which was supposed to keep all suffragists at bay. … The women looked harmless enough, but had they not been told that they must not come there? They were clearly no riot, in fact they were clearly adding much beauty – people seemed to take them as part of the elaborate ceremony.”

The Boston Globe the next day reported, “Without one of their number getting within hailing distance of President Wilson, whom they came here to heckle, militant suffragists claiming residence in eight States succeeded only falling into the hands of the Boston police yesterday. … Twenty-five of them were carried off amid the jeers of big crowds, and late last night 19 were still held in the House of Detention for Women.”

The Globe reporter watched, “Pacing nervously back and forth through out the meeting and peering anxiously in every direction was Miss Alice Paul of New Jersey, who made no more of a secret of the purpose of the gathering than her companions.”

A Massachusetts suffragette told her story.

“We were taken to the House of Detention and there charged with ‘loitering more than seven minutes.’ … It is a most extraordinary thing. Thousands loitered from curiosity on the day the President arrived. Twenty-two loitered for liberty, and only those who loitered for liberty were arrested. … We slept in our clothes, four women to a cell, on iron shelves two feet wide. In the cell was an open toilet. The place slowly filled up during the night with drunks and disorderlies until pandemonium reigned.”

The women were tried behind closed doors and sentenced to eight days for loitering.

“The cells were immaculately clean … but there was one feature of this experience which obliterated all its advantages. The cells were without modern toilet facilities. The toilet equipment consisted of a heavy wooden bucket, about two and half feet high and a foot and a half in diameter, half filled with water. No one of us will ever forget that foul bucket. It had to be carried to the lower floor – we were on the third and fourth floors – every morning.”

Present Wilson was home, and new names could be added to the list of those who could ride on the prison special. It would appear that Alice Paul had listened to another Burlington County resident’s last orders, “Don’t give up the Ship.” It might not make you popular, but it wins respect.

Next Week: Playing politics.


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