Women's Suffrage: One Woman's Experience

by Jennifer McAleer and Melissa Snow

Click here to see a timeline of the Women's Suffrage Movement

Historical Background:

The women's rights movement was comprised of three major periods. The first one, from the American Revolution to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, focused on the expansion of the women's sphere by use of domestic tasks. The second period, from the Convention to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, focused on specific rights and women's entrance into formerly prohibited professions. The last period, which began with the women's receiving the right to vote, is still going strong today.

The women's suffrage movement, part of the second period of the broader women's rights movement, began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York State. This movement, piloted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Henry Ward Beecher and Susan B. Anthony, encouraged all women to lobby for equal rights, especially the right to vote.

In 1917, the United States was at war in Europe. Men were being shipped overseas to fight for democracy and freedom, while their own wives were unable to cast a vote. At this time, a group of women decided that it was time to start their own political war. The absence of American men brought with it the realization that women were essential to the nation and could accomplish much when they worked together. These persevering women marched and protested in Washington to support women's suffrage. They were arrested but never defeated.

One woman who participated in the November 10th march kept a journal of the events. She was part of a group of women who were protesting the jail sentence of Alice Paul, a leader of the National Women's Party who was jailed for obstructing traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue while participating in a protest for women's suffrage. They were also demanding that President Wilson encourage Congress to pass the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which would allow women the right to vote. This was to be the last protest before the new session of Congress would begin.

The journal, possibly written by Agnes H. Morey of Massachusetts, tells first hand of the women's undying persistence. The 41 women who took part in this march were arrested on November 10th but they did not allow that to stop them. As soon as they were bailed out, they organized another march. Over a four day period, they participated in three marches and were arrested three times. The women received sentences of varying lengths, between six days and six months, depending on their police record. They were sent to the Occoquan workhouse in Virginia, which had been under investigation for mistreating prisoners.

At Occoquan, many of the women went on a hunger strike. Because of this move, many of the women were released from the work house so they would not die. Eventually, all the protestors were released from Occoquan. The Northern District Court of Virginia ruled that the prisoners were illegally transported to Occoquan. The women had been sentenced to the district jail, not Occoquan.

In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was passed, finally enfranchising all women. Today's women's right movement focuses on much broader issues, but stems from the women's suffrage movement.

Transcription of diary page:

"Disgusted with the verdict and realizing that for the first time Mullowney was showing wisdom—undoubtedly advised from higher up—we went back to Cameron House—conferred and entered upon a war of attrition deciding to go out again at once on the second picket. 11 dropped out. Their courage weakening—but 10 new ones came in—so at 4:30 again the line went out—but this time all together. Mrs. Brannow leading. Again the friendly crowds—cheering and applauding. A woman came to me and said, "How I admire your courage" Men said "Magnificent spunk," etc. Again we were arrested—went through the same proceeding—bail was put up and back to headquarters we went. When I came out of the Commissioner's office several officers were standing and one said 'Please ladies—don't do it again—we hate to arrest you.' As a matter of fact Sullivan said to me the first day 'Ah Madam—you don't know how I hate to do this.' Mrs. Ramsey, cousin of prosecuting attorney Hart, told me that he was nearly converted to our policy, and that the entire police force was really with us."

Works Cited

"An Appeal to Protest." The Suffragist. 27 Oct. 1917: 6, National Women's Party Collection, Maine Women Writers Collection.

"Another King Against a Tide." The Suffragist. 17 Nov. 1917: 4, National Women's Party Collection, Maine Women Writers Collection.

"Anonymous Journal of a Jailed Suffragist." Box 10, Envelope 21, National Women's Party Collection, Maine Women's Writers Collection.

"A Week of Women's Revolution." The Suffragist. 24 Nov, 1917: 4-5, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

Banner, Lois W. "Woman Suffrage." Encarta Learning Zone. 22 March 2000.

"Forty-one Suffrage Pickets Answer the Attempt of the Democratic Administration to Crush Suffrage." The Suffragist. 17 Nov. 1917: 6-7, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"Government Forced to Release Suffrage Prisoners from Occoquan." The Suffragist. 1 Dec. 1917: 4-5, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"The Government Releases Suffrage Prisoners." The Suffragist. 1 Dec. 1917: 9, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"Investigation of Occoquan Workhouse." 20 Oct. 1917: 4-5, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"The November Tenth Protest." The Suffragist. 3 Nov. 1917: 5, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"Pickets Get Maximum Sentence from Administration." The Suffragist. 20 Oct. 1917: 4, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"President Wilson's Congress." The Suffragist. 13 Oct. 1917: 6, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"President Wilson Endorses National Suffrage." 3 Nov. 1917: 6, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

"Seven Months Sentence for National Suffrage Leader." The Suffragist. 27 Oct. 1917: 4, National Women's Party Collection, Maine WomenWriters Collection.

Wheeler, Marjorie S. "The History of the Suffrage Movement." The American Experience. 22 March 2000.

"Women's History in America." Women's International Center. 22 March 2000.