Ten suffragists were arrested for picketing in front of the White House for the right to vote on Aug. 28, 1917. It would take another three years before they achieved their goal.
That year, more than 1,000 women from across the country joined the so-called Silent Sentinels to support the “Anthony Amendment,” named after Susan B. Anthony.
They were undisturbed until the United States entered World War I. In June, when Gen. John J. Perhing arrived in Europe, police began arresting the suffragists. They were charged with obstructing traffic and sent to Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or the District of Columbia jail. Between June and November, 218 women were arrested.
Many of them went on hunger strikes. They were force fed liquid food through their nostrils for weeks at a time. It made good publicity – for the suffragists.
The National Woman’s Party received financial support from Alva Belmont of Newport, R.I. She famously said, “Just pray to God. She will help you”’ Belmont paid the bail of the arrested picketers and funded a large woman’s rights rally in New York’s Hippodrome. Belmont also founded the Political Equality League, which ultimately became the National Woman’s Party.
Wilson maintained cordial relations with the women, tipping his hat to them as his car passed through the White House gates. Bystanders weren’t so courteous. A couple of sailors attacked them once while two policemen stood by.
On June 20, they grew violent when protesters greeted Russian envoys with signs that read, “We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy, twenty million women are denied the right to vote. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement.”
Eventually, Wilson lent his support to the suffragist cause. Women’s right to vote had already spread across the country. By the time the U.S. Senate passed the 19th amendment on June 4, 1919, 15 states, mostly in the west, had already granted full suffrage to women. All but seven (Alabama, the Carolinas, the Virginias, Maryland and Pennsylvania) had granted full voting rights to women.
The 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.
This story last updated in 2022. Image of suffragists picketing: (1917) The first picket line – College day in the picket line. Washington D.C, 1917. Feb. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/97500299/.