200 Plus

Women, the Press and U.S. Government

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jun 27, 2017

As July 4, 1917 approached, American troops were preparing to take part in the bloody slaughter on the Western Front in Europe, while back home two women were waging their own battles against the U.S. government for the hearts and minds of the citizens. Emma Goldman, a Russian immigrant, along with supporter Alexander Berkman had openly opposed the declaration of war and the draft that followed. In June they were arrested, and as Goldman awaited trial, she granted an interview with Guido Bruno from Pearson’s Magazine.

“‘Get Miss Goldman,’ cried the pale-faced, thin-lipped matron to another white-clad attendant behind the bars of the Tombs. It was a few days after Emma Goldman’s arrest as ‘the head of a country-wide conspiracy to resist conscription.’”

What was Goldman’s message?

“‘There is one thing I would ask you to tell the readers of PEARSON’S MAGAZINE,’ she said, after we had been comfortably seated in little camp chairs near the keeper’s office. ‘I never conspired in my life against government or against anyone, and I did not conspire in this case. I conducted my campaign against conscription openly and squarely. I used the United States mail, all my meetings were public and accessible to everyone. While the police and those who dictate to our authorities tried always to interfere with my work … .’”

Bruno wrote after talking to Goldman, “I walked to the office of United States Marshal Thomas B. McCarthy.

“‘What do you think of Emma Goldman?’ I asked him.

“‘She is a menace to the country. The literature that was seized in her home shows that Berkman is not only an enemy of the nations but also a danger to public morality. Emma Goldman’s influence over a lot of poor and weak people is dangerous at present to the safety of the country. These are not the times to voice her opinions of reforms. She had to be stopped.’”

On July 2, the New York World reported, “In a courtroom as hot as the proverbial hinges of Tophet, the trial of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, the Anarchists, began to-day before Judge Mayer in the Federal Building.”

As soon as the prosecutor began his opening statement, Berkman asked for a dismissal, saying, “‘The conscription law is unconstitutional,’ he declared. ‘It is a violation of the moral, ethical and religious views of the people of the United States. The conscription law is highly immoral and prejudicial to the best interests of the country.

“‘The United States is not invaded, nor is it in danger of invasion. The war is not a defensive, but an offensive one. It is not just to force American citizens to die on foreign soil.’”

The motion was denied.

“Prosecutor Content in his address to the jury kept referring to Goldman and Berkman as ‘these two disturbers of law and order.’ Again he remarked that they ‘have tried to inflame the populace at public meetings.’”

This wasn’t going to be an ordinary trial.

“During the proceedings and shortly after noon a package addressed to the Judge and sent through the mail was received. It was laid on the bench by a Marshal. Judge Mayer espied the package and ordered that a detective assigned to duty in the court open it.

“The detective went into an ante-room and fearlessly attacked the binding twine. The Marshal stood pop-eyed and ready to make a dash. Slowly the wrapper was torn off and then as the Marshal was about to spring through the door a book was brought to light.”

The New York Herald recorded another disruption in the courtroom, “just before the afternoon session opened.

“Up from the City Hall meeting wafted strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ A lad in uniform swung to his feet and stood at attention. The court clerk and a score of the Spectators slowly rose, and when a deputy shouted, ‘Everybody stand up,’ only a group of 3 remained seated.

“Deputy Frank Bowler stepped up and asked them to stand up for the national air. Two young women rose, but a young man, who is said to be a member of the ‘no conscription’ inner circle, was given the old coat collar and trousers method of ejection. Later the young man was readmitted to the court room.”

As the drama was playing out in the New York courtroom, Alice Paul, a Quaker from Moorestown, N.J., was taking on the most powerful man in America, Woodrow Wilson. Paul had organized picketing of the White House demanding the president support an amendment giving women the right to vote. For the first six months of 1917 the pickets had gone mostly unnoticed. But the end of June saw mobs of Wilson supporters appearing and destroying the women’s signs, as the police arrested the pickets for hindering traffic.

The Washington Post of June 30 declared, “The suffragette problem, in the opinion of officials, has taken a place alongside the slacker problem as a menace to the successful conduct of the war. The authorities, both Federal and District, yesterday indicated they will deal with both situations with firmness, applying drastic methods wherever and whenever necessary.”

The government’s strategy was becoming clear.

“The woman’s national party may be made the subject of a congressional investigation, it was learned at the Capitol yesterday.

“Recently reports have been current that its activities are financed by German propagandists, and, although this has been denied by the suffragette leaders, there is a sufficient air of mystery about maintenance of the organization, some of the members of Congress think, to warrant an inquiry, especially as the whole strength of their campaign at present is devoted to an attempt to embarrass the President.”

Following the arrests there was a brief period of calm. The Washington Times of July 1 stated, “Miss Alice Paul, militant-extraordinary … reported no activity scheduled for the day. Tomorrow, however, there may be a different story. The day is expected to mark a brand-new chapter in militant methods.

“No excuses were offered today for the failure of the militants to stage a demonstration before the president at the ball park yesterday afternoon.

“‘The police guessed wrong,’ said Miss Paul, speaking of the concentration of guards about the President.”

But the Washington Post announced the next day, “Miss Alice Paul, chief executive of ‘the militants,’ announced last night a new schedule for the National Woman’s party. From now on pickets will be stationed in front of the White House only once a week.

“Independence day will inaugurate this system. ‘That will be such a good day to start,’ Miss Paul said. A large program is being arranged, and if expectations are fulfilled a line of pickets will stretch from the east gate of the White House to the west gate.

“A banner is now being made. The inscription that it will bear has not yet been written, but it will deal with the significance between July 4, 1776, and July 4, 1917 – the first date when men ‘took’ the power to vote and the present time, when women are ‘trying’ to gain that coveted right. It was a quiet day at headquarters yesterday, but the police fear it was a quiet before a storm.”

The eve of Independence Day the United States government’s propaganda newspaper, the Official Bulletin, ran, “That National American Woman Suffrage Association, comprising the great body of organized suffragists the country over, deplores as absurd, ill-timed and susceptible of grave and demoralizing suspicion the tactics of the isolated handful of suffragists at the National Capital who think to advance the cause of suffrage by demonstrations like the recent banner episodes at the White House.”

There was also a call to stop covering the pickets.

“… an increasingly fine balance of judgment on the part of editors and reporters there is no question that the attitude of a part of the press is an encouragement. … While we are placing the blame, therefore, let us divide it fairly and squarely – one part to the pickets who incite these ructions, one part to the press that spreads the story in the way most calculated to make a prolonged sensation of it, and one part to the public that thrills humanly over its own shocks.”

It would appear that making “the world safe for democracy” might be easier than doing it at home.

Next Week: The glorious Fourth.


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