Saturday, October 4, 2008


This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic'.

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

A woman named Wendy, who studied women's history, saw an HBO movie, "Iron Jawed Angels." When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. 'What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use,
my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'

HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party, remember to vote.

History is being made.


Virginia Harris said...

Thanks to the suffragettes, America has women voters and women candidates, and we are a better country for it!

Women have voices and choices! Just like men.

But few people know ALL of the suffering that our suffragettes had to go through to get the vote for women, and what life was REALLY like for women before they did.

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Thrilling, dramatic, sequential short story e-mail episodes have readers from all over the world raving about the original historical series, "The Privilege of Voting."

This series features the story of Alice Paul depicted in the film Iron Jawed Angels, but goes beyond to tell the stories of a wide range of women during the same tumultuous times.

Discover how two beautiful and powerful suffragettes, two presidential mistresses, First Lady Edith Wilson, First Daughter Alice Roosevelt, author Edith Wharton and dancer Isadora Duncan set the stage for women to FINALLY win the vote.

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Keith said...

Annie, you have a gift for sharing important, and powerful stories from the past. Who tells us that the suffragettes went through all of this?

I felt shame when I wads sipping coffee and a text message came from an Indonesian woman I know who was watching the vice presidential debates in Indonesia television live, while i was at a coffee shop blissfully ignorant.

Well, Annie, I am always glad for your b;log