Just one hundred years ago, women were still not permitted to vote. On March 3, 1913, women marched on Washington, D.C. in protest.
The parade was the idea of Alice Paul, a 28-year old Quaker from New Jersey, who had been to Britain to help the suffrage movement there, and now brought its militant ideas back to America. The march was scheduled for the day before the installation of the new president (Woodrow Wilson) to take advantage of the thousands of spectators expected for the inauguration.
The parade included nine bands, four mounted brigades, more than 20 floats, and over 5000 marchers. The marchers encountered hostile crowds, however.
According to the Library of Congress website devoted to the parade:
“Women were jeered, tripped, grabbed, shoved, and many heard ‘indecent epithets’ and ‘barnyard conversation.’ Instead of protecting the parade, the police ‘seemed to enjoy all the ribald jokes and laughter and part participated in them.’”
However, this treatment backfired since the press coverage and public outcry benefitted the suffragists.
Suffrage was still denied, however, and Alice Paul and her colleagues formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1916, turning to more aggressive tactics.
In January 1917, the NWP staged the first political protest to picket the White House. In July, picketers were arrested on charges of “obstructing traffic.” Some, including Paul, were convicted and incarcerated at either the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or the District of Columbia Jail.
In a protest of the conditions in Occoquan, Paul staged a hunger strike, after which she was then moved to the prison’s psychiatric ward and force-fed raw eggs through a feeding tube. [She survived the experience and among other achievements, went on to author a proposed Equal Rights Amendent in 1923; begin the World Woman’s Party (WWP) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1938; lead a coalition that was successful in adding a sexual discrimination clause to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and live to the age of 92.]
Finally in January, 1918, Wilson announced that women’s suffrage was urgently needed as a “war measure”, and strongly urged Congress to pass the legislation. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting state or federal sex-based restrictions on voting.
As recounted on a website dedicated to Alice Paul:
“Three-fourths of the states were needed to ratify the amendment. The battle for ratification came down to the state of Tennessee in the summer of 1920; if a majority of the state legislature voted for the amendment, it would become law. The deciding vote was cast twenty-four year-old Harry Burn, the youngest member of the Tennessee assembly. Originally intending to vote “no,” Burn changed his vote after receiving a telegram from his mother asking him to support women’s suffrage.”