Opinions of political figures can “evolve” as society demands change and it’s very important to be able to have conversations which allow for people to become more open to new ideas and see other perspectives. Sometimes Woodrow Wilson is portrayed as having been anti-suffrage or tepid towards the idea. In 1915 he voted for suffrage on a state referendum in New Jersey (Episode 67) and his daughter, Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre, was a prominent suffragist, but he felt that suffrage should come through state changes not through a federal amendment. He would not put his full support behind national suffrage until 1918.
January 9, 1917 was yet another disappointing meeting between the National Woman’s Party (NWP) and President Wilson. Alice Paul and the NWP delegates had not convinced him to back a national suffrage amendment. Despite leading policy with his own opinion on other political issues, his stance on suffrage was that he was the servant of his political party and that he had to wait until the views of the constituents who elected him were in favor of suffrage. As the women were leaving, he advised them with these words, “Ladies, concert public opinion on behalf of women suffrage”.
Back at NWP headquarters, Harriot Stanton Blatch came up with the idea to stop with these occasional meetings with the President, take a more aggressive stance, and push public opinion in favor of suffrage. In her speech “The Picketing Campaign Nears Victory” (December 1917) suffragist Mabel Vernon recalls Blatch explaining, “We must go to him every day, we must have a continuous delegation to the President of the United States, if he is to realize the never-ceasing, insistent demand of women that he take action where he is responsible. We may not be admitted within the doors, but we can at least stand at the gates. We may not be allowed to raise our voices and speak to the President, but we can address him just the same, because our message to him will be inscribed upon the banners which we will carry in our hands. Let us post our Silent Sentinels at the gates of the White House.”
On January 10, 1917 the first of many Silent Sentinels stood in front of the White House gates. The words “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” was on one banner and the second had the last words of suffragist Inez Milholland, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” For the next two and a half years almost 2000 women would be part of the continuous picket line. No one had ever done such a thing in front of the White House. Public sentiment was not always in favor of this peaceful protest. In the beginning, many Americans found it disrespectful to the office of the President. When America entered WWI in April of 1917, the protest was viewed as unpatriotic and often incited anger from the general public, but suffragists continued to picket the White House six days a week with occasional pauses during times of arrest and prison until June 1919.
This Week’s Song Pick:
“Make a Noise” by Katie Herzig https://youtu.be/5nyzASiwwNo
Episode 71 Sources:
Mabel Vernon’s speech “The Picketing Campaign Nears Victory” published in “The Suffragist, Vol. V., #98, December 22, 1917, pp 9-10