Earlier this month millions of American women went to the polls to cast their ballots in the mid-term elections. Most of us know that women fought for 70 years for our right to vote, but how many of us really realize just what they had to endure? Nov. 15 marked the 105th anniversary of the Night of Terror, in which 33 suffragists were imprisoned and tortured for peacefully demonstrating in front of the White House.
In January 1917, groups of suffragists, all members of the National Women’s Party, began silently protesting in front of the White House, holding signs bearing slogans like “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” In all, these “Silent Sentinels,” as they were known, numbered more than 2,000.
For the most part, these protesters were quietly ignored by both conservative suffragists who disagreed with their tactics and the White House. That is until the U.S. entered WWI and the public began seeing their protests as unpatriotic. On Nov. 10, 1917, when 30 suffragists including Alice Paul, Dorothy Day (yes, the same woman who founded the Catholic Worker’s Union), and Lucy Burns were arrested for obstructing traffic in front of the White House. Or at least that was the official charge. Everyone knew they were really being arrested for protesting.
They were taken to District of Columbia Jail and then remanded to Virginia’s Occoquan Workhouse. There, the women who ranged in age from X to 73, demanded to be treated as political prisoners, which the prison guards laughed at. Who were these women to demand such things? They were denied legal counsel, so Dudley Field Malone, a lawyer for the Wilson administration, resigned his position and agreed to represent their legal rights.
On Nov. 14, 1917, the superintendent of the workhouse ordered the guards to beat the suffragists into submission. They were tortured and left for dead. Dora Lewis was knocked unconscious; Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack and was denied medical care until the next morning; and Lucy Burns was awkwardly handcuffed with her hands above her head, forcing her to stand overnight. Many were thrown against an iron bench or their iron bedframes, one violently hitting her head to the point the others thought she was dead.
In response to this mistreatment and horrible living conditions—rats roamed the halls, there were maggots in the food, the water was filthy, and the restrooms were very public—the women staged hunger strikes. The government wasn’t about to have them die in jail, so they were force-fed through tubes. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Library of Congress records that they suffered “unprecedented psychological intimidation.”
This event, dubbed the “Night of Terror” caught media attention, turning public sympathy toward the suffragists. They were released on Nov. 28. About a month and a half later, President Wilson finally announced his support of women’s suffrage. In March of the following year, a D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the arrests were unconstitutional. Silent Sentinels continued to protest until Congress passed the 19th amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. Then the women went back to their home states to campaign for state ratification.
To learn more about the Night of Terror, read Jailed for Freedom, a first-person account of the events by Doris Stevens, or watch the movie Iron Jawed Angels.
As August 2020 and the centennial of women’s right vote in the United States grows closer, we’re starting to see some really creative projects highlighting the brave, groundbreaking women of American history. Unfortunately, none of them include Victoria Woodhull yet (trust me, I’m contacting each one as I learn of them), but they do include many of her contemporaries. Here are three projects I’m keeping an eye on:
Rebel Women – A project to get more statues of amazing women of American history built in New York City and throughout the country. The author of the article I linked to is asking for nominations for women from your home town. I’ve already nominated Victoria for New York City and Virginia Minor for St. Louis. Please, feel free to nominate your own or second one of mine by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embrazen Wines – This is by far the most clever of the three projects. A winemaker has created three special vintages with labels that highlight the accomplishments of three women in American history: Josephine Baker, Nellie Bly and Celia Cruz. A special app called Living Wine Labels allows you to scan the bottle and hear Beginning August 26 (National Women’s Equality Day, which many groups are lobbying to make a Federal holiday), you can nominate women of history or today to be added to the next group of wines. If you nominate a contemporary woman, she could win a $25,000 grant. You bet I will be making them aware of Victoria when the Trailblazer campaign opens on August 26.
Where Are the Women? – This Kickstarter campaign aims to create sculptures of 20 notable women of U.S. history. Even though Victoria is not among them, her friends Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone are. I have backed it and I have also recommended Victoria to them. Please help them reach their goal. It’s so important that we spread the word about women’s history and all those whose accomplishments have not received the attention they deserve.
Why am I telling you about these? Well, besides oversight of not including Victoria, I’m still working on a proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the U.S., which I’d love to have published near the centennial. Cross your fingers!
I got so busy yesterday I forgot to post part two! So you get two posts today. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Wave Two: 1960-1988 – Women Fight for Equality Key figures: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Anna Nieto-Gómez, Sandra “Casey” Hayden, Mary King, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and others.
The second wave of feminism in is often attributed to the strict gender roles that oppressed women in the wake of WWII. Despite new household technologies making homemaking easier than ever and socioeconomic change resulting in an abundance of new jobs not confined to the brute strength of men, women were still expected to fulfill many of the same roles they always had, and women were growing restless. In 1963 author Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, criticizing how white women were shown in the media (as good little housewives with no drive or potential) and showing the emotional toll such a life took on women. Add to this the 1961 advent of the birth control pill which made employment without the threat of unexpected pregnancy a reality for the first time, and American females were primed for action.
It can also be said that there was a direct correlation between the fight for Civil Rights by African-Americans and the beginning of the second wave of feminism, which focused on equality for women. The Civil Rights movement gave women a template to follow and showed that their voices matter in terms of activism. These “radical feminists” went on to led the second wave in speaking out on violence and sexism.
Legal victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave women momentum. But this time, there wasn’t just one theme, but many. The women spurred on by consciousness raising meetings fought for the right for women to have access to and equal opportunity in the workforce, as well as the end of legal sex discrimination, championed reproductive rights (especially after 1973’s Rode v. Wade case made abortion legal) and spoke out against domestic violence and marital rape.
By the 1980s many people felt that the movement had achieved its goals through sexual harassment laws, the legalization of abortion and legislation that gave women more equal opportunities with men, so large-scale protests faded away, along with much of the energy behind the movement. Supporters still fought to uphold abortion rights and sexual harassment laws, promote full equality in the military and prevent violence against women, but overall it had lost its spark. On top of this, some feminists were starting to argue over the inclusion of sex workers in the feminism movement, a fight that would continue into the next wave.
The second wave was highly criticized by many African-American feminists and others of color as focusing far too much on the rights and politics of white women, as well as by the LGBT community for being too heteronormative.
Some of you may be aware that I’m working on a proposal for a non-fiction book on the history of U.S. feminism that I hope to have published on or near the 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote, which is August 19, 2020. This week, Diana at Creating Herstory is featuring a four-part article I wrote on this very same subject and I thought I’d repost the article each day as it runs on her site. It will give you a rough idea of what the book will include, although the book also will have a section on colonial feminist thought that this article doesn’t cover.
Image purchased from Adobe Stock
For me, every day is Women’s History month because I’m currently researching the history of the feminism movement in the United States for a book.
Honestly, although I’ve considered myself a feminist for more than 20 years, I never really thought much about the movement in general or how it came to be. But then I researched my historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, a suffragist and the first woman to run for president in the U.S. in 1872 – 48 years before women won the right to vote. Because she was friends with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, I came to learn a lot about how feminism and women’s rights came to be in our country.
Historians generally agree that there have been at least three “waves” or intense periods of activity around women’s rights. But that is where the consensus ends. Exactly when these waves took place and what they encompassed is a serious matter of debate, especially where later waves are concerned. Some people (like me), believe we’re currently living in a fourth wave of feminism, while others say we’re still in the third or even in a fifth. There is even some debate on whether or not feminism in American dates back to colonial times, far before the generally accepted seminal event of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
While one article could never do justice to the many facets of the feminist movement (that’s what the book is for, and even then it is impossible to hit all points), here’s a brief summary of the three accepted waves, as well as my theory of a current fourth wave. All dates are approximate.
Wave One: 1840-1920 – Women Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage Key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others.
Susan B. Anthony (standing) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Beginning in the 1830s, women started to quietly talk amongst themselves about their rights and to question why, under United States law, they were not considered full citizens. This eventually led to the first public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College in 1846 and the first public address about women’s rights the next year. The first women’s rights convention in the United States took place the following July in Seneca Falls, New York. From this meeting came the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled on the Declaration of Independence, was all about woman and her rights, or lack thereof, in the country at that time. It became the basis for the women’s rights movement until the Civil War disrupted the whole country and placed the public’s attention squarely on abolition.
After the Civil War, the women’s movement split into two groups divided over the idea of enfranchisement of blacks as well as whether universal suffrage should be granted at the Federal or state levels. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the leaders of the radical National Woman Suffrage Association, whose members believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote and called for a federal agreement for women suffrage. On the other side of the fence were Lucy Stone and the American Woman Suffrage Association, whose members supported the 15th Amendment and worked for women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
This division hampered the efforts of both groups, by weakening resources, causing in-fighting within the movement and fracturing public attention. As time went on, some states granted suffrage on a case-by-case basis, usually beginning with school suffrage. The first state to grant women full voting rights was Wyoming in 1869. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president, even though she wasn’t technically old enough and the vast majority of women didn’t have the right to vote for her. Despite the odds, Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting in that election (not for Victoria, as the two were bitter enemies by this point) but was arrested and found guilty of illegal voting. But she made history and headlines with her act, and her widely publicized trial spurred on flagging suffragists across the country. In 1875, Virginia Minor, a suffragist from Missouri, argued before the Supreme Court that women already had the right to vote under the 14th amendment of the Constitution, which that states suffrage is a right of all citizens of the United States. But the Supreme Court ruled against her, stating that all “men” had the right to vote, and the suffragists realized that the Federal government wasn’t going to help them. Thus began the decades-long campaign
Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.
for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women.
The two warring factions of women’s suffrage finally reunited in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the united cause of getting suffrage state-by-state. Twenty-six years later, tired of this slow, tame approach, Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. The following year, more than 200 members of this group – known as the Silent Sentinels – were arrested while picketing the White House. Many of them went on hunger strikes in prison and were subjected to torture and barbaric practices like forced feeding. (These women were the Iron-Jawed Angels of the 2004 film of the same name.)
Despite these setbacks, the women’s movement continued under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, who focused whole-heartedly on the national amendment from 1916 on. Women finally gained the right to vote on a Federal level on August 20, 1920. But it took a long time for the states to catch up (Mississippi was the last state in the union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in 1984) and it wasn’t for several decades that African-American women were truly able to vote without fear of discrimination and harm.
Tomorrow’s Part 2 will talk about the Second Wave of feminism, which lasted approximately from 1960-the late 1980s.
“Lock her up!” is a common refrain in this election, with opponents of Hillary Clinton, the first woman to run for president on a major party ticket, loudly calling for her to spend election day in jail. Ironic then, that the first woman to ever run for President in the U.S., Victoria Woodhull, did just that in 1872.
Days before the November 4, 1872, election, she and her sister, Tennie, published a scandalous issue of their newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, in which Victoria accused Rev. Henry Ward Beecher of having an extramarital affair with one of his parishioners, and Tennie recalled the debauchery of a public party years before. Due to a quote Tennie used (which also appears in the book of Deuteronomy), the sisters were changed by Anthony Comstock, America’s self-appointed moral crusader, of sending obscene material through the mail and arrested.
I present to you my imaginings of what Victoria, Tennie and the other women of the suffrage movement might have posted on Facebook on and around Election Day.
H. Balling, “Victoria C. Woodhull at the Polls,” Harper’s Weekly, 25 November 1871
With less than two weeks until the 2016 election here in the United States, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the voting process has changed since Victoria Woodhull’s time. Today we go into a private, curtained booth or at least stand at shielded machines to cast our vote. Unless we divulge it, there isn’t supposed to be any way for anyone else to know who we voted for.
In 1872, not so much.
When I went into my research for Madame Presidentess, I had no idea that votes weren’t always anonymous. America began using the “Australian Ballot” for presidential elections in 1888. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Australian Ballot is defines as “the system of voting in which voters mark their choices in privacy on uniform ballots printed and distributed by the government or designate their choices by some other secret means.” 1888 is also the same year America used the first mass marketed automated polling system – the Myers Automatic Booth.
This ballot for the Equal Rights Party at the re-enactment of 1872 shows what the ballot for Victoria may have looked like. Note that no historical ballots for her exist.
Ballots I also didn’t know that your voting tickets weren’t always given to you at your polling place. Ballots were printed by regional printers, often in the newspapers and sometimes were written out by hand.
There was little uniformity in ballots. Some listed the Presidential Electors, some the candidates, some had photos of the candidates, some were small, some were excessively large. Some places had voters sign their name on the back to prevent fraud.
It was the responsibility for the parties as private organizations to provide these tickets. Parties had to station people at precincts in order to distribute tickets. Both had to be done before election day.
Few people at the time understood the political machine. (Actually, I’m not sure how many of us now really understand it.) Party agents translated platforms for the masses and were known to employ deception, bribery and manipulation to get votes for their candidate.
Voting took place in the county courthouse in the large towns, while immigrant neighborhoods favored the saloon as a polling place. In the country, saloons, general stores, homes, churches, fire stations, warehouses and livery stables all functioned as polling places. When Victoria attempted to vote in 1871, her polling place was a furniture store.
Intimidation and physical violence at polling places was common. Parties often provided free drinks (especially at saloons) to voters as an inducement to vote. Some even got them drunk before they voted so that the voter could be swayed. (If you want more information, I found this article on voter fraud in the 1800s very interesting.) Labor unions, employers, pastors/priests and hired thugs were all people a voter had to fear, especially if he was going to vote for someone those people didn’t want him to vote for. People had their houses burned or were beaten up or fired for going against the wishes of employers or unions.
The voting window separated the election officials from the voters. This required voters to step up onto a platform in full view of everyone else in the room to cast their vote. Men handed their ballot to the official, who put it in the corresponding box or glass globe labeled with the party or candidate, which was out of reach of the voter, but within sight of all. Tickets were only recognized as votes once they were in the hands of election judges.
Some states, like Missouri and Minnesota, allowed verbal voting, whereby a vote was stated publicly and recorded. This also made it very easy to know how an individual voted.
As early as the late 1860s, women were attempting to vote, even though they didn’t yet have the legal right. In 1868, in Vineland, New Jersey, 172 women cast their ballots in a separate box during the presidential election and vowed to do so again each year until they were granted the right to vote. Women in the Wyoming and Utah territories were granted the right to vote in 1869 and 1870, respectively. In 1871, Victoria Woodhull led a group of women in an attempt to vote that was documented by reporters. It is said that one woman managed to cast her ballot amid the chaos. The following year, Susan B. Anthony and 15 other women were arrested while voting for President Grant. Women continued to try to vote until finally being granted the right in August 1920.
Ackerman, Donald l. That’s the Ticket! A Century of American Political Ballots.
Bensel, Richard Franklin. The American Ballot Box in the Mid-19th Century.
As close to meeting Victoria Woodhull as I will ever get!
As some of you know, last weekend I had a the great privilege of participating in a re-enactment of the election of 1872 (the one Victoria Woodhull ran in) at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in south St. Louis County. I’ve never done re-enactment before (I’ve been to Renfaires, but only as a spectator), so this was a totally new experience for me. I was stationed at table with a few other women under the banner “Votes for Women.” We stayed in character some of the time as campaigners for Victoria, but the rest of the time was spent answering questions about her and about my book. I even got to do an impromptu Q&A session after Victoria gave her speech on Sunday.
Much to our surprise, Rebecca Rau and her camera man showed up to film part of their documentary about Victoria, The Coming Woman, at the event. Rebecca and I have become friends on Twitter and Facebook and she saw me post about it, hopped on a plane and there she was! I think she got a lot of good footage from the actors playing Victoria, Horace Greeley, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Minor and others. I particularly enjoyed Frederick Douglass – he’s a man I need to learn more about – and Virginia Minor, whose speech was so moving. And of course, they recorded the rest of us. She even interviewed me on-camera, so you may be seeing me in the film!
The park estimates we had 750-800 people come through. Yes, I may have sold some books by talking with people and handing out postcards (I wasn’t allowed to sell on-site), but more important than that is that this was a huge opportunity for me to get Victoria’s name out there and educate people about her. Only a handful of those we talked to had ever heard about her. Spreading the word about this amazing woman is the whole reason why I wrote my book in the first place, so through this event, I know I achieved my goal of helping get her name in the historical record where it belongs!
Oh, and we held a mock election. The men at the booth harassed us females good-naturedly for trying to vote (remember, this was 1872 and women didn’t get the right to vote in the US until August 1920). Although it was all in good fun, it gave me a small sense of what it must have been like for the women like Victoria, Tennie, and Susan B. Anthony who really did try to vote and were turned away due to their sex, and in Susan’s case, even arrested. In the end, Victoria came in second to Grant, beating Greeley by a long shot. While I would have LOVED to have seen her elected, I realize now that wasn’t likely when the event was being held on the grounds of Grant’s former home.
Speaking of, I also got to tour the grounds, which include Grant’s home of White Haven, a barn, a chicken house and several other buildings used by slaves and animals. As a history lover and life-long St. Louisan, I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know that this place existed until about a month ago. It was very interesting to see that such amazing history is right in my own back yard. I’ve been to nearby places like historic St. Charles, old town Florissant, downtown St. Louis and even Cahokia Mounds across the river in Illinois, but this place really struck a chord with me. Maybe it was because I could tie it to a specific small group of people and that made it more personal; maybe I’m just more aware now that I’m older and more educated through my research. Who knows. But I was fascinated by some of the stories told by the staff and on plaques in the houses. There may be a future novel there. But I need to get the other 20 or so written first!
Victoria C. Woodhull, first American woman to run for President. Ran against Grant and Greeley, 1872.
After keeping this under my hat for almost a year, I’m very excited to announce the main character of my next historical fiction novel is none other than Victoria C. Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, in 1872. I chose today to finally reveal who I was writing about since Hillary Clinton made her candidacy announcement yesterday and my book is out in the world (not published, but it’s circulating, trying to get published).
Over the next several weeks, I’ll share information with you on this fascinating woman, who was born the dirt-poor daughter of a con-man and an insane Spiritualist, but by the age of 33, was a self-made millionaire and had racked up an impressive list of “firsts:”
First woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street
First woman to testify before Congress
One of the first women to run a weekly newspaper
First female presidential candidate
She is quite a character, and so is her family. Seriously, they could have been on Jerry Springer. Maybe next week I’ll introduce you to the whole cast of characters in Victoria’s life – they made for interesting writing. She is one of those cases that proves you couldn’t make up a story as juicy as the truth history gives you. Like Hillary, she had her fair share of detractors, and also her fair share of qualities we wouldn’t think would make the ideal Presidential candidate. But on the balance, I think she was a good person who really did want to change the country for the better.
Why haven’t you heard of her? Good question. I hadn’t either until one day my friend Liv Raincourt pinned a picture of her on Pinterest. The caption, “Known by her detractors as ‘Mrs. Satan,’ Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.” captured my imagination, and as I began to research this fascinating woman, I knew I had the subject of my next book.
No one knows for certain why she has been lost to the pages of history. But two things are likely to blame: 1) the first “biography” published about her shortly after her death in 1927 painted her as a brazen, manipulative whore, so no one wanted her held up as an example of feminine capabilities and 2) she really pissed off Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the ladies who literally wrote the 900+ page book on the history of the suffrage movement. In revenge, they relegated her to a literal footnote. What did she do to make them so angry? The short answer is what didn’t she do, but that’s the subject of another week’s post…
Are you interested in learning more about her? Have you heard of Victoria Woodhull before now? If so, how/where? If not, what do you want to know about her? Let me know and I’ll make sure to answer you over the next few weeks as we dive deeper into this fascinating woman’s story.