Our class watched the movie Iron Jawed Angels. The movie follows (primarily) Alice Paul and Lucy Burns as they helped give the final push of the Woman’s suffrage movement in the 1910’s, culminating in the passage of the 19th amendment. The director is German woman, and the cast is made up of women from several English-speaking countries.
A big plot point in the movie was the clash of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which had been working towards the goal of women’s suffrage for a several decades, and the National Woman’s Party (NWP), created by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns in 1913. The two thought women had waited long enough for the vote, and their participation in the British suffrage movement taught them aggressive tactics, like street protests, specifically parades and, famously, the “Silent Sentinels.” They wanted to use these tactics in the U.S. (while in the U.K., Alice Paul was actually arrested seven times, jailed three, and used hunger strikes while in prison, as she did in the U.S. later). Though both parties were working towards the same goals, NAWSA didn’t approve of the NWP’s tactics, especially President of NAWSA Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, who resigned in 1915 in the face of pressure to support the NWP. She thought there was a more peaceful way the vote could be won.
For this blog post, I’m supposed to tell you which organization I’d join—the NAWSA or the NWP. It easy for us to say now that we would join one or the other. There is no danger in speculating. I will try to answer this question as honestly as possible.
I would like to say I would join the NWP—they were courageous women who did something extremely outlandish for their time, and pushed the final move for the Women’s vote. I feel that perhaps if it was that time period, and I was a woman of means with parents who would still support me (or at least a paid worker of the NWP), perhaps I would join it. However, part of me believes I would be too afraid. When the Occupy Wall Street protests were happening in my Sophomore year of high school, I looked into the protest group in my area. They were picketing a national bank. I had fire in my eyes; I messaged the leader of the group and everything, to see if there was a place for a 16 year old (and my 15 year old friend). Due to a combination of lack of transportation (my mom humors me when I’m in the comfort of our home, but she wouldn’t take me somewhere to further my political activities, which I don’t blame her for), and, I think, a fear that stopped me from finding another way, I didn’t do it.
I did, however, make fact sheets about the movement, and posted them around my school while wearing one of my brother’s giant sweatshirts with the hood up. It was quite and subdued, but it did something for the movement—like the NAWSA.
So, in all likelihood, I would have joined the NAWSA. They didn’t really face violence, but I am all too sure they faced the threat of it and the general anger of others by having the positions they did. And to this, I am no stranger (I wrote a another post about the cryptic situation to which I am referring, but I fear I may not publish it after all).
I think this post would benefit from a list of the suffragists in the movie, and what they are most notable for. We aren’t often exposed to this part of history in media, and in school exposure is just as dismal. This movie is awesome for that reason! It gives us history in a neat, friendly, easy to digest chunk. It has its flaws, yes, but I believe the good outweighs the bad.
Oh, and a side note: I recently learned suffragette was a derogatory term that British suffragists used subversively, but in America this didn’t happen.
So here goes…
- Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw—President of NAWSA from 1904-1915, a physician, and the first ordained female Methodist minister
- Carrie Chapman Catt—President of NAWSA from 1915 to 1947, founder of the League of Women Voters, the International Alliance of Women, the Protest Committee of Non-Jewish Women Against the Persecution of Jews in Germany (which made her the first woman to win the American Hebrew Medal),
- Ida B. Wells-Barnett—born a slave the year before the Emancipation Proclamation, became a teacher, sociologist, investigative journalist, editor, publisher, and book writer, co-founder of the NAACP, did notable work about lynching, refused to give up her train seat 71 years before Rosa Parks and won a settlement against the railroad company (there were many more people who did this; the selection of Rosa Parks as an icon for the movement is an interesting story for another post), the fact that she was only featured in the movie for a few lines and another silent scene is sad.
- Alice Paul—leader of the Congressional Committee of NAWSA until becoming a founder of the NWP, part of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the U.K., earned a Doctorate in 1928, part of the Silent Sentinels protests, one of the women jailed for protesting (force fed after hunger strikes), original author of the Equal Rights Amendment that didn’t get to senate until 1972 and was 3 states away from becoming an amendment (it still isn’t one)
- Lucy Burns—leader of the Congressional Committee of NAWSA until becoming a founder of the NWP, studied at Oxford University, worked in the Women’s Social and Political Union in the U.K., part of the Silent Sentinels protests, spent the most time of any women in the movement jailed for protesting (also force fed)
- Doris Stevens—regional organizer for NAWSA, member of NWP, a participant in the Silent Sentinels protests, one of the women jailed for protesting (she wrote a book about it, Jailed for Freedom), supported feminist studies as an academic field (yay! one of my three majors!)
- Mabel Vernon—member of the NWP, responsible for managing the Silent Sentinels protests, one of the women jailed for protesting
- Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch—daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, founded the Woman’s Political Union that merged with the NWP in 1915
- Inez Mulholland—a female lawyer, protester for pacifism in World War I, member of the NAACP, the Women’s Trade Union League, the Women’s Political Union, the National Child Labor Committee, England’s Fabian Society, NAWSA, and NWP, Fun fact: she was suspended from her college for organizing a women’s rights meeting; she held regular “classes” on the matter (makes me think of Dumbledore’s Army in Harry Potter)
Whelp, I have another post coming literally right after this one, and three more before this time next week.
Thanks for reading!