How Women Won the Vote

It began in the West. After Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage, other western territories and states followed suit.

In California, the successful 1911 campaign involved billboards, speeches by men and women, and spectacles. Women rode in a hot-air balloon above a Los Angeles park and dropped suffragist flyers and symbolic sunflowers.

In 1915, three women drove a car from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco to Congress and President Wilson. They brought a petition for a federal amendment. Newspapers were notified in advance of appearances, rallies, and interviews in forty-eight cities along their route. Readers everywhere followed the story with surprise; roads were primitive and the ladies had no man with them to drive and change tires. This event was planned by Dr. Alice Paul.

Alice Paul around 1915

While studying overseas, Paul had joined the British suffrage movement and learned much more extreme tactics, even ways to protest while in jail. Paul met fellow American suffragist Lucy Burns while both were political prisoners in England.

Paul returned to the States, earned a Ph.D., and took a position with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Paul asked the much older leaders to send her and Burns to Washington, D.C., where, in the eyes of NAWSA, they gradually went rogue.

Like NAWSA, the anti-suffrage movement was also large and well-organized, with mostly women activists. Both sexes feared a social revolution and the breakdown of family values. President Wilson said to an old friend, Nancy Saunders Toy, “Suffrage for women will make absolutely no change in politics — it is the home that will be disastrously affected. Somebody has to make the home and who is going to do it if the women don’t?”

Suffragists were elated when Wilson announced that, as a private citizen of New Jersey, he would vote for women’s enfranchisement in that state’s election. To him, this was an issue to be settled by each state, not an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Wilson’s endorsement was emblazoned on signs in suffrage parades. Ten thousand women marched down Fifth Avenue in the fall of 1915, when enfranchisement was on the ballot in four states with large populations: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

Men voted down suffrage in all four. There were still no eastern states with full suffrage, and in the South, anti-suffrage sentiment was high. Some southern white men prevented Black men from voting, sometimes with violence. Black men were lynched. How could white men keep enfranchised Black women away from the polls?

After the defeats in the northeast, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment seemed the best chance for nation-wide women’s enfranchisement, although it had languished in Congress for more than thirty-five years. President Wilson opposed it.

Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA, presented “The Winning Plan,” which included women lobbying Washington lawmakers. “We do not care a gingersnap about anything but that federal amendment,” Catt said.

Carrie Chapman Catt

Paul had focused on that goal long before. She decided it was necessary to pressure Wilson into persuading lawmakers. On January 10, 1917, members of Paul’s National Woman’s Party (NWP) stunned the country by picketing the White House. Not even men had protested outside the president’s home.

Women of Pennsylvania picketing the White House.

The banner above reads, “Mr. President/ How long must women wait for liberty.” Women took turns as “silent sentinels,” and the cold winter months were just the beginning.

In spring, the United States joined the World War, and the protestors appeared unpatriotic. Crowds gathered almost daily to jeer the suffragists. Catt’s NAWSA members sold war bonds, but Paul’s NWP protesters carried a banner with the first line “Kaiser Wilson” outside his home. Wilson did not want them arrested because they would get even more publicity.

In July, Helena Hill Weed carried a banner that read, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Helena Hill Weed

She served three days in jail.

Perhaps because of the unruly spectators, picketers began to be arrested in the summer. By August, the crowds of onlookers attacked women suffragists. Ernestine Hara Kettler wrote about the time she and the other three picketers were arrested. The charges were obstructing traffic and loitering. She told the court that the four women marched single-file on the sidewalk. She said that a lot of people stopped and it was they who obstructed traffic. The women were sentenced to thirty days. By the fall, sentences became longer.

Paul got seven months. In prison, she refused food, as she had in England. She was fed by a tube shoved down her throat. The other imprisoned suffragists protested, and in a “Night of Terror,” the women were dragged and beaten. Lucy Burns’ arms were chained to the top of her cell door, and she was left overnight.

Other suffragists joined the hunger strike and were force fed. Rose Winslow wrote that she vomited repeatedly during a single feeding. She fainted when she was not being fed.

Journalist David Lawrence, a close friend of Wilson, visited Paul in prison. Whether he brought a proposal is unclear. A few days later, all the suffragists were released. Hunger strikers were too weak to walk without assistance.

Kate Heffelfinger

Although progress was made with Wilson and the House, the situation continued into 1918. Here, hunger striker Dora Lewis is physically supported by two women (in hats) upon her release.

Clara Louise Rowe (L), Dora Kelly Lewis, and Abby Scott Baker

The publicity was bad for Wilson’s image here and abroad, and for that of his party. After his turnaround, Wilson saved face by acknowledging the moderate NAWSA — he and Catt corresponded frequently — but not Alice Paul’s NWP. He told the Senate that because women had filled men’s jobs when they went to war, women deserved the vote. The Senate immediately voted down the proposed amendment.

Women had worked for the vote for almost seventy years. Catt and the women of NAWSA did an excellent job, but men could continue to refuse them.

It was Paul who forced the president to act. She said, “If a creditor stands before a man’s house all day long, demanding payment of his bill, the man must either remove the creditor or pay the bill.”

The amendment was almost defeated, even with Wilson’s efforts on the federal and state levels. It barely passed the House and Senate, where approval took more than a year. Three-quarters of the states needed to ratify it, and its last hope was the Tennessee legislature.

A preliminary vote indicated the Tennessee lawmakers were tied on ratification. A tie meant the proposed amendment would die. Were it not for twenty-four-year-old Senator Harry Burn changing his vote, at the request of his mother, on August 18, 1920, and Dr. Alice Paul and her “silent sentinels,” some American women might not be able to vote today.

References

Books

Berg, A. Scott. Wilson. New York: Berkley Books, 2013.

Hill, Jeff. Defining Moments: Women’s Suffrage. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2006.

Videos

American Experience: The Vote. PBS. Prime Video. 2020. Episodes 1-2.

Wheelock, Martha. California Women Win the Vote (DVD). Wild West Women. <www.wildwestwomen.org>. 2011.

Online

Library of Congress. “Women Fight for the Vote.” <https://www.loc.gov/exhibitions/women-fight-for-the-vote/about-this-exhibition/confrontations-sacrifice-and-the-struggle-for-democracy-1916-1917/surviving-prison-and-protecting-civil-liberties/all-join-me-in-much-love-very-very-much/>

Photographs

Edmonston, Washington, D.C. Miss Alice Paul, New Jersey, National Chairman, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage; Member, Ex-Officio, National Executive Committee, Woman’s Party. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000146/>.

Carrie Chapman Catt. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller002725/>.

Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. Penn[sylvania] on the Picket Line — 1917. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000212/>.

Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk, Conn. Serving 3 day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000060/>.

Kate Heffelfinger after her release from Occoquan Prison. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000298/>.

[Mrs.] Lawrence Lewis [Dora Lewis] of Philadelphia on release from jail after five [d]ays of hunger striking. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000229/>. [Cropped for this use.]

Microphones Changed Music in the 1920s

In 1925, the condenser microphone began to be widely used in music studios. These convert sound waves into electrical signals. Before that, recordings were made by machines without electricity.

Acoustical Recording Machines

We’ll see a video showing people singing into very long horns. Their voices (or instruments) had to vibrate an attached diaphragm that was usually glass. Doesn’t that sound hard? Professional singers needed a big voice and the ability to sustain the volume. The glass moved a stylus, which cut a groove into rotating hard wax.

Acoustical recording machines couldn’t record singers with lower or higher voices. A baritone was too low, so men tended to be tenors. In this acoustical recording of Eddie Cantor, note how he projects his voice.

Here is a video: How the Microphone Changed the Way We Sing.

EMPRESS OF THE BLUES

These two recordings show why Bessie Smith was called the Empress of the Blues. The condenser microphone came into wide use in 1925, so I have chosen recordings of her from 1923 and 1929. There’s a big difference in the sound.

Bessie Smith sings Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (1923)

Bessie Smith sings I’ve Got What It Takes (1929)

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Finding Art Nouveau in Paris

Energetic design. Asymmetrical, yet balanced. This whole apartment building, Castel Béranger, is Art Nouveau. It was architect Hector Guimard’s first important work, and it was noticed.

Geolina163 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Geolina 163 / CC BY-SA

Soon afterwards, he was awarded a commission to design entrances to the new Metro. There had been a design competition, but Guimard had not officially entered it.

Photograph by Pamela Tartaglio

The structure is iron, exposed, and made decorative. These are characteristics of Art Nouveau architecture. The iron is painted green and in forms that suggest plants, flowers, and Crustacean-like designs (below). These entrances made Guimard famous, but at first Parisians weren’t sure that they liked them. The cast iron could be made elsewhere, so this was practical.

Photograph by Pamela Tartaglio

One of Guimard’s entrances is in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Huge plant-like stalks have flowers or buds which are actually amber glass lamps.

Paris in the 1890s

People sensed a stagnation in the western world. They called their time fin de siè·cle, meaning “end of the century.” They looked forward to the 1900s and wanted change. Paris was to host a world’s fair, and the Metro was built in anticipation of this 1900 Paris Exposition.

An Art Nouveau Church

I love surprises when I travel, and I spotted this around the corner from the charming Metro entrance I photographed (Abbesses, in Montmartre, Paris).

The door was open, so I went inside.

It’s a more restrained Art Nouveau. There’s no asymmetry as in the gate by Guimard. The style is subdued because it is a sacred space and maybe because it’s a departure from the other churches in Paris, which are older and traditional in style. This is considered the first modern church in Paris.

The curving balustrades sparkle.

Photo by Pamela Tartaglio

The Church of Saint John (St. Jean) was built over several years that spanned 1900. It took so long because construction was halted due to concerns over structural safety. The building passed tests, and the world’s first church made of reinforced concrete was completed in 1904. The architect was Anatole de Baudot.

Imagine. Those Metro entrances were being built at the same time as this.

My next post will appear on July 1. I hope you enjoyed Paris.

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Sheltering at Home

It’s National Public Gardens Week, and the only garden I have seen is at my house. (I feel lucky to have that.)

I miss the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. This was once the home of Henry and Arabella Huntington.

The “Temple of Love,” above, is surrounded by “Passionate Kisses” roses.

The Huntington has a newer Chinese Garden.

But We’re at Home

Adults can print and color pages from America’s Garden Coloring Book. The Huntington is featured, and there are origami projects.

The Huntington is also an art museum, famous for Blue Boy. Due to the pandemic, this is the kind of art I am seeing now, at home.

I love how this art is stylized. There are no gradations of color in the birds, and the angle of their wings is precise. You may have noticed that the puzzle has only 300 pieces. I ordered puzzles when I began to confine myself to my home, and I got easy ones. Slim pickings online, by the way.

I was also not above buying cheerful puzzles which I will one day share with the children in my family. Really, I will. I need happy, easy activities now.

Goofy Movies

I have seen recent silly movies too many times to watch them again. Dumb and Dumber. Happy Gilmore.

For comedies I haven’t seen a dozen times, I watched some from the 1960s. After the Fox stars Peter Sellers, and my brothers and I must have watched this every time it came on TV. I never found a video or DVD of it, and I was afraid it had faded into obscurity. I found it on Amazon Prime.

The famous playwright Neil Simon wrote the screenplay, and the music is by Oscar-winner Burt Bacharach. Here’s the original trailer, from 1966:

Can you recommend a favorite goofy movie?

I’ll get serious this week, and next weekend, we’ll see a bit of Paris from 1900, the Fin de Siecle. Stay safe.

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