Senator Favola Honors Suffragette Alice Paul, Women's History Month
Richmond, Virginia — March 6, 2012 — On the sixth day of Women’s History Month, Senator Barbara A. Favola (D- Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun) celebrated the legacy of women’s rights leader and suffragette Alice Paul and drew comparisons between the suffragette picket line and protests on Capitol Grounds this weekend.
Senator Favola said, “As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we pay tribute to the lives of women who have torn down historic barriers of prejudice, created new opportunities for all of us, and championed social justice. I would like to take this moment to share the story of the ‘Iron Jawed Angels’.
“In the early 1900s, Alice Paul and her friend Lucy Burns put their lives on the line to fight for the right to vote for American women. This true story, which was made into a movie filmed in Richmond, has startling parallels to today. Activists struggled with issues such as challenging a political establishment dominated by men, and educating a society that has been paternalistic towards women.
“In 1912 Philadelphia, the young Suffragettes had a meeting with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, formed in 1890 by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Miss Paul and Miss Burns pressed for a more aggressive approach to voting rights: a federal constitutional amendment enfranchising women. Alice Paul was appointed Chairwoman of the Congressional Committee, but she and Burns were left to raise their own funds to support the new approach. The team began planning their first big event, a parade to promote women's suffrage.
“Returning to Washington, President Woodrow Wilson finds himself ignored, while across town, the suffrage parade turns into a riot, with hecklers attacking the Suffragettes. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns seek to press their media advantage by leading a delegation to see President Wilson. He puts them off with promises to study the issue, and the women lobby members of Congress to get the suffrage amendment to the floor for a vote, but it dies in committee.
“When the young women’s confrontational methods are criticized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, they split from the older generation and form their own National Women’s Party. The Party opposed any candidate who was against the proposed constitutional amendment. The National Women’s Party disrupts President Wilson's speech to Congress with a protest. The women are not deterred, and they embark on a cross-country speaking tour.
“World War I begins, and President Wilson is headed for victory in his reelection campaign. But Alice Paul and Lucy Burns return to Washington with a bold plan to picket the White House.
“Wartime fervor turns public opinion against the Suffragettes, who are arrested on the trumped-up charge of ‘obstructing traffic,’ even though their picket line is on a sidewalk. Refusing to pay a fine for a crime they didn't commit, the women are sentenced to sixty days in an Occoquan, Virginia women's prison. Insisting that they're political prisoners, Lucy Burns demands the Warden respect their rights, only to be cuffed with her arms above her cell door. In solidarity and defiance, the other Suffragettes assume Burns' painful posture.
“When Alice Paul and Mrs. Leighton join the picket line, they are attacked by a mob, and subsequently imprisoned themselves. Thrown into solitary confinement, Alice Paul goes on a hunger strike. She is then denied counsel, placed in a straitjacket, and subjected to an examination in the psychiatric ward. The doctor tells President Wilson that Miss Paul shows no signs of delusion, and she returns to the prison's general population, where she leads the Suffragettes on a hunger strike. The Warden begins force-feeding them, and a sympathetic guard sneaks Alice Paul pen and paper.
“Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, tries to get President Wilson to repay her years of loyalty by finally supporting the suffrage amendment, but he refuses. Senator Leighton visits his wife in prison, and is appalled by her condition. During their meeting, she slips him Miss Paul's note, describing in detail their mistreatment. Word of the force-feeding leaks out, and public opinion shifts in favor of the Suffragettes, now known as the ‘Iron Jawed Angels’. Ms. Catt seizes the moment to press President Wilson into supporting the suffrage amendment. The President reverses his position, announcing his endorsement of the amendment in a speech to Congress, and the women are released from prison.
“By 1920, thirty-five states have ratified the amendment, but one more state is needed. Tennessee becomes that state when a recalcitrant legislator casts the deciding vote after receiving a telegram from his mother. On Aug. 26, 1920, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, or 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, becomes law, and 20 million American women win the right to vote. Virginia did not ratify the amendment until 1952.
“Virginia is not known for embracing change, but we should be a state that honors Thomas Jefferson’s passion for protecting individual rights—yes, even the rights of women. Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The best principles of our Republic secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights.’
“I suggest to you that the 2012 session of the Virginia General Assembly has trampled on a women’s right to privacy and a women’s constitutional rights to reproductive health care. Many in this body ran on a platform of small government but delivered a government that is telling doctors how to practice medicine and a government that is involved in the most personal and intimate decisions between a patient and her doctor.
“This is not what Virginians voted for, nor is it something that women will tolerate. The legacy of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns continues in the peaceful demonstrations, poignant rallies and the arrest of 34 activists we have recently observed on the grounds of this Capitol. The struggle continues.”