Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column. We bring feminist history to life with news-style reporting of milestones from years past.
Alice Paul has been busy since arriving in Chicago, and today announced specific plans for picketing the Republican National Convention, which starts here day after tomorrow.
In keeping with the tradition of the “Silent Sentinels” who picketed President Wilson, there will be no heckling. As before, the messages of the National Woman’s Party will be made quite clear by being written on large, colorful banners.
More than a hundred women representing twenty-two States will be outside the convention hall each day. They will be bearing banners with the names of their States, and slogans intended to pressure party leaders into using their influence to persuade the Republican governors of Connecticut and Vermont to call special sessions of their legislatures so that one of those States can become the 36th and final one needed to ratify the Susan B. Anthony Amendment and enfranchise women nationwide.
Though the pickets are expecting both parties to put endorsement of the Anthony Amendment into their platforms for the first time this year, mere words will have no effect whatsoever on the protests, because words alone cannot satisfy the Constitutional requirements for ratification. Only the approval of 36 of the 48 State Legislatures can do that, and thus far just 35 have given their endorsement since June 4, 1919, when the amendment gained final Congressional approval.
Suffrage headquarters, directly across the street from the Coliseum, where the convention will be held, was crowded, and a beehive of activity today. Even though most of the volunteers have not even arrived yet, some meetings had to be held out on the sidewalk due to lack of room. But though this outpouring of enthusiasm is sure to cause many logistical problems, that’s certainly preferable to a sparsely populated office due to apathy, or overconfidence that ratification before the November 2nd Presidential election is inevitable.
The picket line will be led by suffrage pioneer Rev. Olympia Brown, 85 years old, who along with another elder suffragist, Anna Kendall, will be holding a banner inscribed: “How long must women wait for liberty?” These were the final public words of the late Inez Milholland Boissevain, who collapsed on stage during a grueling speaking tour of the West in 1916, and never recovered.
The main banner to be used will carry the following inscription: “We protest against the continued disenfranchisement of women, for which the Republican Party is now responsible. The Republican Party defeated ratification in Delaware. The Republican Party is blocking ratification in Vermont. The Republican Party is blocking ratification in Connecticut. When will the Republican Party stop blocking suffrage?”
Another featured banner notes that women can already vote in some States: “Republicans: Twenty million unenfranchised women ask you for the vote. Seven million women who can vote for Congress and the President are waiting for your answer to them.”
Pickets from Connecticut and Vermont will carry banners saying: “The Republican governors of Connecticut and Vermont refuse to call our legislatures, ready to ratify suffrage at a special session. Will the Republican Party allow two men to prevent the enfranchisement of 20,000,000 women?”
Though National Woman’s Party pickets have repeatedly proven themselves willing to go to jail in the past, it is not expected that there will be any repetition here of the arrests that took place in Washington, D.C., during the campaign against President Wilson. According to one suffrage leader, Police Chief Garrity “is a suffragist, even though he is a bachelor.”
There is still hope the upcoming confrontation can be avoided, and that Republicans can still preserve their reputation as the party of suffrage. Last year, Republicans gave the Anthony Amendment 81.8% support in the U.S. Senate and 91.3% support in the House, providing the votes needed to put the measure over the 2/3 supermajority required since Democrats gave it only 54% support in the Senate and 59.8% support in the House. Since then, 26 of the 35 States which have ratified had Republican majorities in their legislatures.
If Republican leaders use their influence to get the Republican governor of an unratified State to call an immediate special session of the legislature, and it then provides the 36th and final ratification needed, there will be jubilant, cheering suffragists surrounding the Coliseum instead of silent, solemn pickets. But until that final victory is achieved, every tactic that has been successfully used to get the amendment this far will be employed, and no one will be letting up in their efforts until the Secretary of State certifies that the following words are in the U.S. Constitution:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.