During the Civil War (Episode 17) the suffrage movement paused because women felt that it was their duty to support their chosen side. They didn’t necessarily want to do it but they were willing to do it and put aside their needs to help others. After the war the movement had trouble properly restarting. Although women had made progress in many ways, they also lost momentum. Residual resentment over the bitter war (Episode 19) and the philosophical fractures over the 14th and 15th Amendment (Episode 26) didn’t help matters.
When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, women in 12 western states had the right to vote, but the rest of the suffrage movement faced a similar fork in the road: pause the fight for suffrage and unite behind the war effort, or refuse to be sidelined and continue to push for suffrage during the war years. A woman’s sons, brothers, father, or husband could be sent to die for democracy in a foreign country yet she herself did not have the right of full citizenship in her own.
Some suffragists temporarily left the movement and joined the war effort in auxiliary roles. Women took work in factories, grew victory gardens, knit socks, and bought war bonds. Organizations such as the YMCA and Red Cross served many functions and had active roles for women both at home and abroad. There were even women ambulance drivers who not only faced danger just by driving to and from the front lines on damaged or non-existent roads in low tech vehicles with no seat belts, but they often had to be skilled mechanics in order to make repairs to the ambulance and possibly be the sole medical personnel for the wounded passenger. Marie Curie herself and her daughter, Irene, created mobile x-ray machines called “Little Curries” and trained 150 women how to use them. Communication operators known as the “Hello Girls” were vital to the war effort yet many of them felt the cutesy moniker diminished what they were doing and it wasn’t until 1977 that the remaining survivors finally received veterans status and benefits. Indeed, women played far more roles in WWI than can be named in this short summary.
However on the home front, many suffrage organizations decided to continue the fight. The Silent Sentinels of the National Woman’s Party (Episode 71) continued picketing the White House. Even before America entered into the war, the very act of protesting, even silently, in front of the White House was considered to be disrespectful to the office. After the war started, it was seen as unpatriotic and even treasonous. The women countered these sentiments with sharply worded banners such as the draft day banner of Sept 4, 1917 which stated in all capital letters, “MR. PRESIDENT: IT IS UNJUST TO DENY WOMEN A VOICE IN THEIR GOVERNMENT WHEN THE GOVERNMENT IS CONSCRIPTING THEIR SONS.” Over the next several months the general public and authorities grew more infuriated with the Silent Sentinels and then the arrests began....to be continued (Episode 73).
This week’s song pick:
“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie https://youtu.be/27x25sdW9wQ
Episode 72 Sources: