79. From Prison to the People

The National Woman’s Party (NWP) was incredibly media savvy. In order to counter the articles painting the Silent Sentinels (Episode 71) as unpatriotic radicals, the suffragists who had been arrested and released went on a public speaking tour. The train itself was called “Democracy Limited” and the tour was named the “Prison Special”. (There had been a “Suffrage Special” train tour in 1916 also sponsored by the NWP.)  The 1919 “Prison Special” tour stopped at all major cities from the East Coast to the West Coast with a Southern outbound path and Northern return route. Over two dozen members of the NWP who had all been imprisoned took part by giving speeches and distributing literature during the tour which ran from February 15, 1919 through March 10, 1919. Several were still visibly weak from hunger strikes and having been force-fed.

Alice Paul planned the route and Lucy Burns led the tour. Because conservative Southern states were a main obstacle to a federal suffrage amendment, Southern cities were especially important to the tour. At each stop, the suffragists, dressed in their prison garb, fanned out over the city, and gave individual speeches about their experiences in prison including the “Night of Terror” (Episode 73) which personalized the fight for women’s rights. The general public could see these women as peaceful protestors who had been arrested for exercising their First Amendment right and unfairly abused during imprisonment. (Of course, publicity centered around the fact that these were middle-to-upper class white women who had chosen to go to prison for a political cause and were not the same as poor women or women of color who were the usual type of people being sent to prison.) At the end of the day everyone would meet up for the free mass meeting as a finale before hopping on the train to the next town. 

While some suffrage groups choose to distance themselves from the more militant tactics of the NWP, and not everyone welcomed the “Prison Special”, the tour was an overall success. It was considered vital to garnering public support for the passage of a national suffrage amendment in Congress and its subsequent ratification by ¾ of the states.

Bonus:Suffragent, Dudley Field Malone, was also on the Prison special speaking tour as noted in the top left hand ticket on this week’s graphic. He was the lawyer who got the suffragists out of jail and in 1921 married suffragist, Doris Stevens, author of “Jailed for Freedom”.

1916 “Suffrage Special” tour
1919 “Prison Special” tour

This week’s song pick:
“Secrets” by Miranda Lambert https://youtu.be/cqqqV50zaAc

#SuffragetteCity100 #SufferingForSuffrage

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