Today, June 27, in 1917, six women suffragists—Mabel Vernon, of Reno, NV; Katherine Morey of Boston, MA; Maud Jamison, of Norfolk, VA; Lavinia Dock of Philadelphia, PA; Virginia Arnold of Asheville, NC: and Annie Arniel, of Wilmington, DE—were convicted in police court of obstructing the sidewalk by displaying propaganda banners before the White House. Refusing to pay a $25 fine, the women were sent to the District jail for three days. Members of the National Woman's Party, the women ranged in age and included a munition factory worker, pioneering nurse, teacher, businesswoman, and national suffrage organizers. Newspapers around the country covered the story. A reporter who was allowed to interview the jailed suffragists witnessed what he called "an extraordinary scene . . . ."that I recounted in my book, The Vote: Women's Fierce Fight. "Six Suffragists, Put in Jail, Sing And Hold Rally," read the front-page headline in the New York Tribune, June 28, 1917, p. 1.
A black inmate got permission from the matron for Mabel Vernon to play a little organ in the corridor. Nearby there were thirty negro women and a few white women "huddled on a stairway behind a barred petition." Mabel Vernon asked for a request. "God Be With You Til We Meet Again,"replied Evelyn, a quiet girl with a drug addiction. Together the women sang. In his article the reporter wrote that "Bessie Jones, a negro woman . . . shouted through the bars" to tell him: "And don't you forget that we've been here a long time, and we're having a good time to-night for once."
The matron also allowed Mabel Vernon to hold a brief "votes for women" rally, garnering enthusiastic support from the longtime inmates. (And, as we might suspect, the matron was likely already a convert.)
In an article titled, "Suffragists Submit to Jail Sentence for Good of Cause," published in The Washington Herald, June 29, 1917, p. 1, Katherine Morey said, "My heart seemed to skip a beat or two as I glanced at the long line of steel barred doors." But then she learned of a "touching little incident that had preceded our arrival. The women prisoners had discussed our coming and decided we would prefer to be as near each other as possible. So they asked to be moved to other cells that we might have six in a row."
This incident is all the more extraordinary since it occurred in a segregated city and a profoundly racist time in America.