Today in Herstory: Alice Paul Attacks the Republican Party on Suffrage

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


June 11, 1920: Alice Paul escalated the war of words outside the Republican National Convention today.

When National Woman’s Party pickets first stood outside the gates of Chicago’s Coliseum three days ago, most carried their party’s purple, white and gold standards, while some held up huge banners of an “educational” nature. Passersby were informed that it was a Republican legislature in Delaware that had recently rejected ratification of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, and it is Republican governors who are refusing to call special sessions of the Vermont and Connecticut Legislatures. In both those States it is believed that a majority of legislators are eager to provide the 36th and final ratification needed for victory, but because their regular sessions are over, and they’ve adjourned, neither one can meet until next year unless called into special session by the governor.

Alice Paul outside the Chicago Coliseum earlier today.
Alice Paul outside the Chicago Coliseum earlier today.

Today, however, the message printed on all the large banners held by Alice Paul and the other N.W.P. members was simple, uniform and explicitly partisan: “VOTE AGAINST THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AS LONG AS IT BLOCKS SUFFRAGE.” This is not a new tactic for the National Woman’s Party. Four years ago it attacked Democrats with banners saying: “VOTE AGAINST WILSON – HE OPPOSES NATIONAL WOMAN SUFFRAGE,” and satirized his campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war” with banners reading “VOTE AGAINST WILSON – HE KEPT US OUT OF SUFFRAGE.”

Needless to say, no political party welcomes criticism, so there was some heckling of the protesters today by delegates as they passed by on their way into the convention. But there was nothing like the near-riot in 1916 when a mob attacked the party’s anti-Wilson banner-bearers outside a Chicago auditorium where the President was speaking, or the repeated attacks by crowds on the “Silent Sentinels” who picketed Wilson by standing along the White House fence each day from 1917 to 1919.

According to Alice Paul, if the Republican Party does not deliver the 36th State, this week’s protests will be just the beginning. No matter who the Republican Presidential nominee may turn out to be, he will be trailed and picketed at all speaking engagements, and undergo hostile questioning at every meeting open to the public. All Republicans running for Congress this year will be vigorously opposed, in the same way all Democrats were opposed in 1916.

As to why Republicans – who have provided the vast majority of votes for passage and ratification of the Anthony Amendment – might suddenly be reluctant to have ratification occur before the November elections, Paul has a couple of ideas. Though the party as a whole has always been far more supportive of suffrage than Democrats, some very prominent Republicans are outspoken anti-suffragists. The party may fear the defeat of these powerful lawmakers if women in their States can vote in the upcoming elections. Republicans also seem concerned that most women may favor immediate entry of the U.S. into the League of Nations, something President Wilson and the Democrats have championed, while Republicans, led on this issue by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, have blocked. If women feel strongly enough about the League, a large “women’s vote” in November could put another Democrat in the White House on March 4th to replace outgoing President Wilson.

But to Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, the reasons why the Republicans are suddenly failing to do their part to enfranchise millions of women are irrelevant. Showing Republicans that it’s in their party’s best interests to finish the job of ratifying the proposed 19th Amendment is her concern:

The winning of the thirty-sixth State has not been accomplished. More pressure from the Republican Party must be exerted to win it. We hold the Republican Party responsible for the delay in ratification. We are not concerned with the party’s record during the past on the suffrage issue. It is now blocking suffrage in Vermont and Connecticut where legislatures are ready to ratify and are not allowed to convene by their Republican governors. In no Democratic State does a similar situation exist.

We intend to continue to show the Republican Party the effect of the obstruction of suffrage on its political future. When Republican leaders become convinced that party expediency is involved in suffrage ratification, women will be enfranchised.

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