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Epigraphs: The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight, Part VI, Chapter 17

I think there’s a possibility. This statement by Maud Wood Park is the epigraph for The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight, Part VI, Chapter 17, Fiery Tactic: January-October 1918.

In the epigraph, Maud Wood Park, chief lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was referring to the “possibility” that the U. S. House of Representatives might finally pass a federal woman suffrage amendment. The vote was scheduled for January 10, 1918. “We scarcely ate and were too tired to sleep because of the innumerable last things to be attended to,” she reported. Park was apprehensive; so many things could go wrong. And they did—four “yes” votes met with calamities. One representative was delayed by a train wreck. Another suddenly had been taken to the hospital. Another remained hospitalized. One’s wife had died during the night. But, in the end, they all managed to arrive, most dramatically Henry Barnhart who was brought in on a stretcher.

There was a long day of speeches. Jeannette Rankin from Montana, the first woman

elected to Congress, made an eloquent appeal for passage. Anti-suffrage representatives spewed misogyny and racism. The amendment would enfranchise “colored women” and undercut “Southern States . . . struggling to maintain law and order and white supremacy,” warned John A. Moon from Tennessee.  It took three roll calls before the clerk announced the vote as 274 yeas and 136 nays, the necessary two thirds, with just one vote to spare! Pandemonium erupted—women and men shouting, cheering, shaking hands, hugging, crying for joy. Outside the gallery door, a woman started singing the hymn “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and a multitude of voices joined her.”

The Senate vote was the next battle: It was scheduled for May 10. Maud Wood Park was optimistic—”Victory seems in our hands . . .The galleries were filled. The senators came in all dressed up for the occasion—here a gay waistcoat or a bright tie, a flower in a button-hole, yonder an elegant frock coat over gray trousers.”  But it was not to be. The opposition took over the proceedings. Sensing defeat, Senator Jones withdrew the motion to vote on the woman suffrage amendment.

Three months later, on August 6, the day the suffrage martyr Inez Milholland would have turned thirty-two, a line of almost one hundred women wearing white gowns and bearing purple, white, and gold banners and flags marched to the statue of Lafayette, across from the White House. Police broke up their demonstration, arresting forty-eight women. Twenty-four were sent to an old jail, a rat-and-vermin infested hellhole that had been declared unfit for human habitation in 1909. Released after five days, the suffragists were “trembling with weakness, chills, and fever, scarcely able even to walk to the ambulance or motor car.” In September, the NWP staged another demonstration at Lafayette’s statue.

This time, symbolizing “the burning indignation of women,” they introduced a new—a fiery tactic—and burned a piece of paper inscribed with some of President Wilson’s “empty words” about his support for woman suffrage.

On Sept. 26, the U. S. Senate again considered the woman suffrage amendment. The debate went on for five days. On Sept. 30, President Wilson made an unprecedented personal appeal to the Senate to approve the amendment. The next day, Oct 1., the woman

suffrage amendment was defeated, two votes short of the required three fourths. “Stunned, as though unable to grasp it, hundreds of women sat there,” wrote Maud Younger, chief lobbyist for the NWP. “Then slowly the defeat reached their consciousness, and they began slowly to put on their hats, to gather up their wraps, and to file out of the galleries, some with a dull sense of injustice, some with burning resentment.”  President Wilson had “done something . . . but there was a great deal more that he could have done,” concluded Maud Younger.

In Chapter 17 in The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight,  I describe the dramatic

votes, demonstrations, arrests, and incarcerations. The images from top to bottom: Maud Park Wood, Jeannette Rankin, demonstration at Lafayette’s statue, and a photo of Maud Younger from a newspaper in Wabeno, Wisconsin (8/18/1916, p. 2). The caption points out that Younger teaches suffragists how to lobby. The Congressional Union was the predecessor to the NWP. (Click on images to enlarge.)

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