On this day in nonviolent history, the Silent Sentinels began their two and a half years long protest in front of the White House demanding Women’s Suffrage. They were organized by Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and the National Woman’s Party. The women began on Jan 10th, 1917 and protested for six days a week until June 4, 1919 when the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed both by the House of Representatives and the Senate. (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Sentinels )
The name Silent Sentinels was given to the women because of their silent protesting. Using silence as a form of protest was a new principled, strategic, and rhetorical strategy within the national suffrage movement and within their own assortment of protest strategies.
The two-and-a-half year long protest sparked outrage, fury, beatings, scorn, derision, and arrests. The horrific conditions of the Occoquan Workhouse (torture, beatings, rotten food, lice, vermin, and force feeding the suffragettes raw eggs to break their hunger strike protest) ignited public sentiment and brought the cause further to national attention.
After Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment on June 4th, the suffragettes turned their attention to state ratification. Tennessee turned out to be the tipping point state on Aug 18th, 1920, becoming the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. It was won by the single vote of a legislator (Harry T. Burn) who had opposed the amendment but changed his position after his mother sent him a telegram saying “Dear Son, Hurrah! and vote for suffrage. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”
What was on their signs? Remember as you read this that Woodrow Wilson was in the White House and World War I was ramping up!
“Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?”
“Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
“We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts–for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.” (Wilson quote as the US entered WWI)
“Kaiser Wilson, have you forgotten your sympathy with the poor Germans because they were not self-governed? 20,000,000 American women are not self-governed. Take the beam out of your own eye.” (comparing Wilson to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and to a famous quote of Jesus regarding hypocrisy)
Learn more! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Sentinels
Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Occupy Radio and Love (and Revolution) Radio, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network. She is a trainer and social media coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene. Sun attended the James Lawson Institute on Strategic Nonviolent Resistance in 2014 and her essays on social justice movements appear in Truthout and Popular Resistance. www.riverasun.com