Good morning. It’s Thursday, August 28, 2014. As the National Guard pulls out of Ferguson and residents of that troubled Missouri town try to make sense of what has happened — and what is yet to happen — in their community, today’s date reminds us that street protests can be more than a cathartic exercise. They can also promote necessary social change.
In 1917, Alice Paul and her army of demonstrators marched for months in front of the White House, all of their demands contained in single placard: “Mr. President, what will you do for women’s suffrage?”
The demonstrations began in January. By summertime Woodrow Wilson was losing patience, and authorities began arresting the women, ostensibly for blocking sidewalk traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue. And on this day 97 years ago, police arrested 10 suffragists and took them away to jail. What happened behind bars would alter the course of the nation.
I’ll have a brief word on that chapter in American history in a moment. First, I’d direct you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which aggregates stories and columns from across the political spectrum, and to a complement of original material from RCP’s own reporters and contributors:
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Why Republicans Will Take the Senate. Part 2 of Caitlin Huey-Burns’ series on the reasons each party could hold sway in November.
Will We See a GOP Wave or Not? Sean Trende assesses the prognosticators’ assessments.
Tacos, Beer, and the Banality of Evil. Heather Wilhelm bemoans a disturbing outgrowth of the ice bucket challenge, and other evidence of hardening of mankind’s moral arteries.
Kids and Guns: Lessons From Arizona. RealClearPolicy editor Robert VerBruggen, who learned to handle guns as a child, weighs in on the tragedy that took the life of a shooting instructor.
Terrorism as Theater. In RealClearWorld, Robert Kaplan writes that the beheading of James Foley was a rehearsed docudrama intended to send ISIS’s twisted message in the most effective way possible.
Politicians, Celebs, Toddlers: 7 Great “Ice Bucket Challenge” Videos. Tim Hains and I compiled this slide show.
How Close U-Boats Came to U.S. Shores. In RealClearHistory, Mark Sauter spotlights a new book detailing the campaign to defend the coastline from Florida to New England.
Top 10 Finishes in College Football History. RealClearSports compiled this list as the season officially kicks off tonight.
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According the Library of Congress exhibit on the suffragists’ demonstrations, 218 women were arrested outside the White House in 1917. President Wilson was initially courteous toward the women and would tip his cap and say hello to them.
But those demonstrations coincided with America’s entry into World War I, and as the American “doughboys” entered the fighting in Europe, the president’s demeanor toward the women hardened.
Nearly half of the women hauled off by police were incarcerated in the D.C. jail or a women’s prison called the Occoquan Workhouse. But just as Gen. John J. Pershing’s American soldiers turned the tide of war across the ocean, Alice Paul’s peaceful army proved a force to be reckoned with.
In prison, the women launched hunger strikes. Fearing they would have female martyrs on their hands, authorities force-fed them through tubes, a violent procedure that helped turned public opinion in the women’s favor once again.
“When the forcible feeding was ordered I was taken from my bed, carried to another room and forced into a chair, bound with sheets and sat upon bodily by a fat murderer, whose duty it was to keep me still,” Miss Paul explained. “Then the prison doctor, assisted by two woman attendants, placed a rubber tube up my nostrils and pumped liquid food through it into the stomach. Twice a day for a month, from November 1 to December 1, this was done.”
No scientific surveys yet existed to measure the effect news of such treatment was having on public opinion. But none were needed. By January 1918, Wilson reversed field, and lined up in support of a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.
August 18, 1920 is celebrated as Women’s Equality Day in honor of the 19th Amendment’s passage. But the hardest work was done in the streets and jail cells, not the halls of Congress or state legislatures, most of it by now-anonymous women, including the 10 bold suffragists arrested on this date, August 28, 1917.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau Chief