We burn his words on liberty today. This statement by Elizabeth Selden Rogers is the epigraph for The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight, Chapter 18, Assault on Congress: October-December 1918
With the end of World War I in November 1918, President Wilson was attending the Paris Peace Conference in France. Fed-up with Wilson’s foot-dragging, tepid pro-suffrage- amendment politicking with Congress, the NWP escalated the burning of his words. On
December 16, 1918, four hundred women—”pioneer suffragists, munitions workers, women of the West, toilers, the unenfranchised women of America”—marched to the foot of Lafayette’s statue, across from the White House. A large Grecian urn rested on the base of the statue. Pine logs in the urn were set ablaze as Vida Milholland, the martyr Inez’s sister, sang the “Woman’s Marseillaise.” Elizabeth Selden Rogers, a founder of the NWP and a star speaker, spoke: “Our ceremony today is planned to call attention to the fact that President Wilson has gone abroad to establish democracy in foreign lands when he has failed to establish democracy at home. We burn his words on liberty today, not in malice or anger, but in the spirit of reverence for truth.”
A dire circumstance complicated suffragists’ efforts in 1918—the outbreak of the influenza pandemic, dubbed the Spanish flu. Public officials shut public meeting places. The number of people on streetcars was limited. Some movie theaters sold half the number of tickets to reduce crowding. People wore gauze masks and kept their distances from each other. Bodies piled up in the street. Coffins were in short supply. In the eighteen months the virus ravaged America, an estimated 675,000 people died.
Despite the frightful, crippling conditions, suffragists conducted campaigns for equal suffrage in five states: Louisiana and Texas for the first time, Oklahoma for the second time, Michigan for the fourth time,
and South Dakota for the seventh time. At the federal level, Alice Paul orchestrated a picket assault on Congress, targeting anti-suffrage senators. Capitol police retaliated by manhandling the women. Newspapers across America covered suffragists and their fearless and persistent actions.
I write about suffragists’ activities and the opposition from October-December 1918 in Chapter 18. The images from top to bottom: Elizabeth Selden Rogers standing on a mobile speakers’ platform, holding a suffrage map. Behind her is a suffrage van stocked with suffrage literature and ephemera; two notices about the Spanish Flu from the Oklahoma City Times, Oct. 5, 1918, p. 10; South Dakota suffragist Rose Bower, on the cover of my book The Vote, was a suffrage lecturer, columnist, lobbyist, and musician renown for her skills in playing the cornet and whistling! (Click on images to enlarge.)
The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight is available in paperback and eBook.