American Experience


Part 2 | The Vote | American Experience

Part Two examines the mounting dispute over strategy and tactics, and reveals how the pervasive racism of the time, particularly in the South, impacted women's fight for the vote.

AIRED: July 06, 2020 | 1:52:58

(gulls squawking, waves crashing)

NARRATOR: By the fall of 1915,

there could scarcely have been an adult in the United States

unaware of the controversy over votes for women.

It had been circulating on the periphery

of the national conversation

for six decades,

and during the previous five years,

had moved decisively to the center--

a crusade of the few blooming into a mass movement,

their demand for the ballot growing ever more insistent.

Hotly debated in town halls, on street corners,

and around dinner tables the country over,

woman suffrage had divided husbands and wives,

siblings, women, one from another,

and had aroused vociferous opposition

from every quarter of American society:

industrial interests, politicians,

and not least, the states of the former Confederacy,

where the franchise was a jealously guarded instrument

of white supremacy.

With defeats far more numerous than victories,

new voices had risen to champion new, more aggressive tactics,

and the suffrage movement had splintered over strategy,

highlighting the fundamental question of what it would take

for American women to finally win the ballot.

What no one anticipated in 1915

was the lengths to which they would actually have to go.

MARTHA JONES: This is a real struggle.

It is a struggle over ideas.

Who are women, what can they be?

What can they do, who should they be?

It is a struggle over power.

Who gets to say what this nation is

and how it does what it does?

ALEXANDER KEYSSAR: The fact that there is resistance

to the expansion of democratic rights

is not uniquely American.

When people have some rights that other people don't have,

you have to convince them to share.

Not everybody's going to want to.

(car engine puttering, horn honking)

(crowd cheering)

(children chattering)

NARRATOR: On September 16, 1915,

at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

in San Francisco,

four women-- virtual strangers--

climbed into a waiting car,

drove through the fairground gates,

and headed east

to launch a new phase in the very long struggle

for woman suffrage,

now in its 67th year and counting.

It was close to midnight when they set out.

Their final destination: Washington, DC.

(fireworks exploding)

MARY WALTON: The car takes off, very, very dramatic.

Lights and fireworks, and it's on its way.

NARRATOR: With few personal possessions,

the travelers' cargo consistedprimarily of an enormous scroll

which had been gathering signatures

at the Expo for months:

a petition demanding an amendment

to the U.S. Constitution

that would enfranchise all of the nation's women at once.

Bearing it across the continent was Frances Jolliffe,

42 and a drama critic from Washington state;

poet Sara Bard Field, 33 and a native of Oregon;

and two Swedes who had volunteered

their brand-new Willys-Overland

for the trip.

(engine running)

The "envoys," as they were called,

would be taking a circuitous route,

stopping for pre-arranged rallies, receptions,

and press interviews

in 48 different cities.

Not counting unplanned detours,

the itinerary was nearly 5,000 miles.

On a good road, with the top up,

they'd be lucky to log 20 miles per hour.

WALTON: You have to imagine roads at that time.

Roads are like tracks across the prairies left by wagons.

They had to cross the desert.

There are no maps.

TINA CASSIDY: There was no interstate highway system.

There weren't streetlights.

There weren't pay phones.

There was really no infrastructure

to support a crazy trip like this.

NARRATOR: Already by Sacramento,Frances Jolliffe had had enough,

leaving Sara Bard Field alone with the Swedes,

one of whom talked incessantly.

"Like Odysseus, I have many experiences to relate,"

Field telegrammed a friend from the road:

12 miles through alkali salt pan in Nevada's Great Basin,

an experience Field described as "plowing through dust";

snow drifts so high in Wyoming

that everyone had to get out and push;

a mud hole in Kansas that swallowed the Overland

as if it were a shoe.

CASSIDY:Newspaper outlets would call in with scenes from the road.

The whole adventure of it

was really captivating for the nation.

Women were quite literally crossing

a new divide in America,

and being much more vocal and aggressive--

demanding the vote, not asking politely.

NARRATOR: The stunt was the handiwork of Alice Paul,

a 30-year-old Quaker with a PhD

from the University of Pennsylvania

and a playbook inspired by her apprenticeship

with Britain's notoriously militant suffragettes.

Having been recently ousted

from the movement's pre-eminent organization,

the more moderate

National American Woman Suffrage Association,

Paul now led the upstart Congressional Union,

a small cadre of committed activists

who shared her impatience for the ballot

and her willingness to employ unladylike tactics to win it.

CASSIDY: Women had been at this for decades,

and the movement was going nowhere.

And Alice Paul really believed that the answer

was in needing a new approach.

NARRATOR: While her one-time allies from the National Association

continued to wage the battle state-by-state,

re-enacting the by-now tired ritual

of pleading with male voters on street corners,

Paul had set her sights on the federal amendment,

and had appealed instead to female voters

from the 11 so-called free states of the West,

where women already were fully enfranchised.

As the popular humor magazine "Puck" acknowledged

with a two-page spread in its special 1915 Suffrage Issue,

the four million women of the free states

were poised to liberate their sisters elsewhere.

All they had to do was vote in solidarity with the cause.

Alice Paul's envoys would deliver that message

to Capitol Hill

and make it known to the Democrats--

who held the presidency

and controlled both houses of Congress--

that thousands of Western women were prepared

to hold them responsible

for the federal suffrage amendment.

J.D. ZAHNISER: The idea was to get the attention of the party

and convince them that women's votes

can alter the balance of power,

and persuade them to push through

the constitutional amendment.

NARRATOR:By the time the envoys' Overland reached Washington, DC,

on the morning of December 6,

four states in the East

had voted to keep women from the ballot box.

And even those suffragists who dismissed Paul as a "militant"

had begun to see the wisdom

in her demand for the federal amendment.

President Wilson received the envoys graciously.

"Nothing could be more impressive," he said,

surveying the petition.

"This visit of yours undoubtedly will make it

"necessary for all of us to consider very carefully

what it is right for us to do."

What the president did not say

was that he had already decided what was right to do.

As he'd put it to a friend just the night before,

"Woman suffrage will make

"absolutely no change in politics.

"It is the home that will be disastrously affected.

Who is going to make the home, if the women don't?"

KEYSSAR: It's hard to get inside theheads of men who were thinking,

"We don't want to enfranchise our wives or our daughters."

I think that we have to recognize that there are

fairly rigid notions of what is appropriate to, to gender,

what is the domain.

What was expected of women

was that they might want to get an education,

but that then they would marry.

They would have children.

They would take care of their husbands.

They would raise the children.

That was their ambit, that was their sphere.

MARCIA CHATELAIN: Women who had either

been among the first, or among the few,

who had completedlegal education, medical school,

are realizing that there's no place for them

and there's nothing for them to do.

And I think the most educated women really became restless.

SUSAN WARE: It wasn't just about casting a ballot.

It really was about women's roles in society.

And the suffragists in some ways are in the forefront,

and saying, "We want to do more."

(thunder rumbling)

NARRATOR: By the late spring of 1916,

the call for a federal suffrage amendment

had become a clamor.

And in June, despite a torrential downpour,

5,500 suffragists turned out to press the point

at the Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Accompanied by a pair of mascots borrowed from the local zoo,

the column of women stretched for two miles.

"A vast sea of umbrellas,"

the "Chicago Herald" observed, "in unbroken formation.

"Never before in the history ofChicago, probably of the world,

"has there been so impressive a demonstration of idealism,

of consecration to a cause."

It was precisely the sort of coverage

the newly elected president of the National Association

had been hoping for.

Carrie Chapman Catt was 57,

and the crusade for woman suffrage

had been the one constant in her life,

a thread that stretchedbackwards through two marriages

and the deaths of both husbands,

through the teaching career

that had financed her college education,

all the way back to her adolescence

in Charles City, Iowa,

and the election of 1872.

ELAINE WEISS: Carrie Catt is in her family farmhouse.

It was a very political family.

Her mother was a big supporter

of Horace Greeley, who's running.

Carrie Catt names her cats after,

after the presidential candidates.

It's a big deal in the house.

And so her father and her older brothers

and the hired hands

get dressed to go vote.

But her mother just is still in her housecoat

and isn't getting dressed,

and she says, "Why aren't you going?

Aren't you going to town to vote?"

And, you know, the men laugh,and her father, who she adores,

says, "Well, don't you know, voting is too important

to allow women to do this."

And she's just stunned.

At that moment, she realizes she had to work towards this.

WARE: Carrie Chapman Catt has been part of the movement

since the 1880s,

and was actually president of the national organization

for four years right at the turn of the century.

So she goes way, way back.

And I think, by 1916, she was just getting impatient, too.

WEISS:The movement seems to be listing

and there's a great sense of frustration,

and the National Association drafts Carrie Catt

to come back and lead them

into what they know is going to be a critical stage.

NARRATOR: After the crushing defeats in the East,

Catt later recalled,

"Suffragists were in no mood to go to the states again

and beg the vote."

Going forward, the National Association would fight

for the constitutional amendment.

But unlike the militant Miss Paul

leveling threats at the Democrats,

Carrie Catt meant to beat the politicians

at their own game.

WEISS: Amending the Constitution seems really very enticing.

But it's not easy.

ELLEN DUBOIS: You have to get two-thirds of the Congress.

That's hard enough.

And then you have to get three-quarters of the states.

Ratification is by design a very high bar.

NARRATOR: Catt's opening move was to convince

both major political parties

to endorse votes for women

and thereby clear the way for the federal amendment.

MICHAEL WALDMAN: Political parties mattered a lot,

and their platforms mattered a lot--

what they said were the commitments

that they were going to make.

Carrie Catt is trying to convince the parties

not just that this is the right thing to do,

but that it'll help them politically.

She's in there whispering to the men in power,

"This is in your interest."

NARRATOR: But at the convention in Chicago,

Catt's play was blocked

by anti-suffrage senatorsfrom Massachusetts and New York.

WARE: In the Northeast, in the industrial states,

there's strong, entrenched political machines

who were not keen on women voting.

KEYSSAR: The political machines want a predictable electorate.

And they want to be able to win elections

with the electorate that they know.

Double the size of the electorate,

and who knows what's going to happen?

So let's just keep things as they are,

where we know how to manage.

NARRATOR: Thanks to pressure from pro-suffrage Republicans,

a compromise eventually was struck:

a plank that endorsed votes for women,

so long as they were secured by action of the states.

To Catt's dismay,

the scene repeated itself the following week,

at the Democratic National Convention

in St. Louis,

only this time, the opposition came from the South.

CHATELAIN: With the majority of African Americans

concentrated in the South,

the issue of voting becomes the central preoccupation

of white Southern Democrats, as well as anyone interested

in the machinery of white supremacy.

BETH BEHN: Southern states had gone to great lengths

to disenfranchise African American men,

who'd been enfranchised with the 15th Amendment.

So, any discussion of an amendment that would include

a provision for federal enforcement

is, is crazy talk in the South.

WALDMAN: Federal action on voting had created a situation

where the former slaves were voting in huge numbers.

That was Reconstruction.

The Southern Democrats regarded that as a grave mistake.

The last thing they wanted

was national constitutional action on voting rights.

NARRATOR: For Southern Democrats,

the stakes were amply demonstrated by Illinois,

where, in 1913, women had won partial suffrage,

and now could vote for both presidential electors

and in municipal elections.

Over the previous year,

renowned anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells

and her Alpha Suffrage Club

had successfully mobilized

Chicago's African American women,

and had helped to elect Republican Oscar DePriest,

the city's first black alderman.

JONES: Black women are going to vote

for president in Illinois in 1916.

They are organizing themselves and their community

around the polls.

So if I'm an astute student of politics in the South,

I understand what black women will do

if given the opening and the possibility

of coming to the polls,

that they will work to really upend

a political order that is bound by white supremacy.

That's clear.

NARRATOR:The plank that finally wound up in the Democrats' platform

was nearly identical to the Republicans'.

Catt declared it "an insult to womanhood."

But as she told members of the National Association

at an emergency meeting,

now that both major parties

had drawn a line at the federal amendment,

she was more determined than ever

to get it across.

CATT (dramatized): Remember that the federal government

enfranchised the Indians,

assuming its authority upon the ground

that they are wards of the nation.

That the Negroes were enfranchised

by the 15th amendment.

That the vote is the free-will offering of our 48 states

to any man who chooses to make this land his home.

Why, then, should American women be content

to beg the vote on bended knee from man to man,

when no male voter has been compelled to pay this price?

BEHN: Carrie Chapman Catt says this is the beginning of victory.

And she launches what she calls the Winning Plan.

DUBOIS:Catt's idea is, you support the state campaigns like New York,

where they might win.

But the goal is going to be the federal amendment.

BEHN: She does the math and says, "Okay, clearly,

"the more representativesthere are from suffrage states,

the better the chances for the federal amendment."

WEISS: And that is true.

As more and more states were enfranchising their women,

that meant there was more pressure on Congress.

WARE: Carrie Chapman Catt had a political vision

that was just as accurate and practical as Alice Paul's,

but Catt is someone who works within the system.

That's the way she is.

Alice Paul says, "No, I'm going to try different things,

and we're going to blow this wide open."

NARRATOR: Beyond America's borders in the summer of 1916

was a world fraught with danger.

(engines running)

(planes flying, explosions echoing)

The nations of Europe were waging

a brutal, seemingly senseless war

that in just two years had claimed the lives

of nearly a million men.

And Americans were looking to elect a president

who would keep them out of the fray.

(crowds cheering)

It was shaping up to be a tight race.

Woodrow Wilson, who'd been nominated by his party

on the first ballot,

had the advantage of incumbency.

But the last Democrat elected to a consecutive second term

had been Andrew Jackson, in 1832.

Already, the slogans wereflying, newspapers were opining,

and the Republican nominee,

New York governor Charles Evans Hughes,

was barnstorming the country,

trying to distinguish himself from the competition.

WALTON:They're both sons of ministers.

They're both lawyers.

Teddy Roosevelt called Hughes the bearded Woodrow Wilson,

they were so much alike.

And Alice Paul sees an opening here.

She thinks she has a real chance to defeat Wilson.

NARRATOR: After personally paying a call to Hughes in July,

Paul managed to extract from him a tight-lipped endorsement

of the federal suffrage amendment,

though he was careful to qualify it to the press

as "purely a personal opinion."

The Southern-born president, by contrast, stubbornly clung

to the states' rights position favored by his party.

BEHN: Wilson knows he's in a battleheading into the 1916 election.

He's deeply concerned with any discussion

of a federal amendment on suffrage

because he's got a base of support in the South.

And the whole question of who's voting in the South,

for Southern Democrats,

must remain a state matter.

NARRATOR: Alice Paul intended to make the Democrats' party line

a liability at the polls.

She'd already taken the audacious step

of forming a new political party--

the National Woman's Party--

which at first was comprisedonly of fully enfranchised women

and featured in its platform a single plank:

immediate passage ofthe federal suffrage amendment.

(train whistle blows)

Now she sent organizers west

to rally women voters to her party's ranks,

and, as she told a supporter,

to convince them to cast their ballots

against Wilson and the Democrats.

PAUL (dramatized): We have been saying

that the women would rise in revolt

at the polls this November against the Democrats

if they did not pass the amendment.

We are now face-to-face with the test

of whether they will do so.

Whether we succeed in defeating Mr. Wilson

is of secondary importance.

What we must do is to show himand every other national leader

that women are ready to revolt against hostility.

DUBOIS: The growing number of women

who had full voting rights in the West

were now an actual tool--

a force, a political force to be reckoned with.

Everybody recognized this.

But Paul took a step forward.

BEHN: Paul says to the Democratic Party,

"If you do not get on board

"with supporting a federal suffrage amendment,

"we will swing the votes

"of 500,000 women in the Western states

"against you.

"Whether your candidates in those states

"are pro-suffrage or anti-suffrage,

"we're going to vote against them,

"we are going to vote against Wilson,

"and we are going to hold the Democrats responsible

for passage of a federal amendment."

NARRATOR: By the end of August, Paul hadinstalled opposition campaigners

in all 11 of the free Western states.

37-year-old Lucy Burns, Paul's second-in-command,

was stationed in Montana.

Doris Stevens, 27 and a teacherfrom Omaha, took on California,

while trade union organizer Rose Winslow, 26,

split her time between Arizona and Wyoming.

Harriot Stanton Blatch,who'd been assigned to Colorado,

was sure that together,

they could annihilate Wilson at the polls.

Blatch was 60 and a veteran of the suffrage wars.

She'd spent the better part of the last decade

organizing in New York,

the very state where her mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton,

first had launched the movement.

But the 1915 defeat there had soured her on the work.

Newly widowed, she'd established legal residency in Kansas

in order to be able to cast a ballot,

and, as she told Alice Paul, had turned her head and heart

to her enfranchised sisters.

"I believe in women," Blatch explained.

"The East calls to the West for succor."

WALTON: They're equipped with banners and leaflets

and copies of "The Suffragist."

In many places, this is still the frontier,

and it's very difficult terrain.

They know no one, and no one knows them.

They find that in a number of states

where women have the vote,

they're just not all that interested

in this federal amendmentand this cause of Eastern women.

DUBOIS: It's 1916.

Nobody really cares about this.

They're concerned about the war in Europe,

and Wilson is announcing

he won't take the United States into it.

NARRATOR: What in August had seemed a promising venture

by September had become a punishing grind,

as the campaigners shuttled over hill and dale

to canvass far-flung voters.

"I am absolutely worn out,"Harriot Stanton Blatch grumbled,

"by routing out at midnight and 4:00 in the morning."

Even women half her age had begun to flag.

By October, no fewer than eight were down,

from nervous exhaustion, bronchitis, food poisoning.

Then, late in the month, the campaign's star speaker,

30-year-old Inez Milholland,

who'd led the 1913 suffrage parade in the capital,

collapsed mid-speech on a stage in Los Angeles,

her last words directed to Wilson:

"Mr. President,

how long must women go on fighting for liberty?"

Diagnosed with pernicious anemia and a rampant infection,

Milholland languished in the hospital

while Blatch finished out her tour.

BLATCH (dramatized): Women voters!

Remember, Wilson kept us out of suffrage.

Be loyal to women.

Do not return to power a president and a Congress

hostile to political freedom for women.

Vote against Wilson

and the Democratic candidates for Congress.

NARRATOR: When voters went to the polls on November 7,

they delivered one of the closest elections

in American history.

Based on incomplete returns,

some early editions on the 8th declared for Hughes.

By the 9th, those papers were publishing retractions.

Wilson had eked out a victory after all.

Of the 12 stateswhere the National Woman's Party

had campaigned against him,

the president had carried ten.

BEHN: The premise of Paul's strategy

was that women would be single-issue voters,

that they would privilege suffrage above all else,

and that strategy turns out to just be incorrect.

Compared to the issue of America's entry into the war,

suffrage was way down on the list.

CASSIDY:The Western campaign didn't have a huge impact,

but it really opened people's eyes

to the lengths to which Alice Paul was willing to go

to keep the momentum going.

NARRATOR: Two-and-a-half weeks after the election,

Inez Milholland died in California,

and Alice Paul immediately resurrected her

as a martyr for the cause,

emblazoning the cover of "The Suffragist"

with Milholland's likeness

and a verse from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic":

"As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free."

When Maud Wood Park,

a newly appointed lobbyist for the National Association,

arrived in Washington, D.C., in late 1916,

it was with some reluctance.

"I am afraid I am too much a reformer

and too little an opportunist,"she'd told Carrie Chapman Catt,

"to be of use in Washington."

But as Park recalled, the lobby was a key component

of Mrs. Catt's Winning Plan,

and she'd refused to take no for an answer.

WEISS: The suffragists have knocked on doors.

They've had rallies, they've had marches.

But they also have to convince legislators,

political men who have their own agendas,

who have their own constituencies,

to meet their needs.

That federal amendment's

been kicking around Congress for 40 years--

they got to get it out of there.

NARRATOR: Park had been selling woman suffrage to skeptics

for her entire adult life.

One of only two women in her1898 Radcliffe graduating class

to support votes for women--

and appalled by her generation's apathy--

she'd gone on to found the College Equal Suffrage League,

which by 1908 boasted chapters in 30 states.

She was no less tenacious when it came to politicians.

Back home in Massachusetts,

she'd once trailed a state legislator into a saloon

to secure his pledge for woman suffrage.

But Capitol Hill was alien terrain.

The briefing she received on the task ahead

left her, she later said,

"So scared by the number of mistakes

"which it was possible to make,

"I wondered whether I should ever have the courage

to open my lips to speak."

WARE: Maud Wood Park

really hadn't spent any time in the nation's capital

until that point.

She had to teach herself how Congress worked,

and I think she was at first a little surprised

at how dysfunctional it was, how...

How things didn't get done

and how people seemed to be spending an awful lot of time

not doing anything at all.

But she's the kind of no-nonsense person

that would just think, "Okay,

what are we going to do about this?"

NARRATOR:From the National Association's new headquarters

on Rhode Island Avenue,

Park now would oversee

more than two dozen volunteers from 16 different states,

and guide their efforts to push the federal amendment

through Congress

one legislator at a time--

all of them men.

Washington insiders called it the "Front Door Lobby."

DUBOIS: The word "lobby" already had a negative association.

Lobbyists were corrupt people

who bribed politicians in back rooms.

WARE: What was so unusual about the suffrage lobbyists

is that that was not the way they operated.

They were going to go in through the front door

and they were just going to sit down and make the case.

DUBOIS: Maud Wood Park trained a whole corps of lobbyists.

She taught them how to approach congressmen.

One of the things you always did is,

before you went into a congressman's office,

you knocked, lest he be in a compromising position.

Keep the door open, make friends with his secretary,

and when you're done, go into the ladies' room

and write down all your notes.

WEISS:They keep very detailed records

on every legislator in Congress,

and they know who his enemies are,

they know who his friends are,

they know who his donors are.

They know the skeletons in his closet,

and they'll use it if necessary.

Just sweetly, just mention that they know it.

WARE: And then just keep at it.

Keep coming back, not get discouraged.

Don't nag them, but just don't go away.

NARRATOR: During the month of January 1917,

Park's lobbyists met with 326 members of the House,

20 of them on more than one occasion.

The reports on the interviews, read in bulk,

could be dispiriting.

"Polite but positive."

"Against woman suffrage."

"Believes that woman dwells apart from man in her nature."

"Maintains that Illinois is the only place

"east of the Mississippi

where there will ever be women voting."

Still, by the end of the month,

the lobbyists had gained a total of 11 new supporters,

"Small result after four weeks of work," Park acknowledged,

but nevertheless progress.

DUBOIS:Becoming active in the suffrage movement changed women.

It taught them capacities.

It taught them how to run organizations,

how to run political campaigns,

what it was like to collaborate with other women.

It got women to do things

they didn't think they could possibly do.

(trolley bell rings)

NARRATOR:The nation's capital had barely begun to rouse itself

on the morning of January 10, 1917,

when Alice Paul turned her back

on decades of polite patience and politics-as-usual,

and threw down the gauntlet

at the very gates of the White House.

A dozen suffragists assembled there just before 10:00,

shouldering the colors of the National Woman's Party

and banners addressed to the president.

They stood in silence until midday,

when they were relieved by another group,

who stayed until 5:30.

"Squads will be stationed about the White House daily

until the presidential inaugural on March 4,"

the "Washington Herald" reported.

"This is generally regarded asthe most militant move ever made

by the suffragists of this country."

No one had ever picketed outside the White House

like this before.

BEHN:For women to stand at the gates of the White House

and demand attention from the president,

to demand rights,

is stepping far outside of social norms for that time.

WARE: There had been picket linesin the labor movement for years.

It's not a tactic that they invented.

But applying it to suffrage and using the White House--

and specifically its occupant, Woodrow Wilson--

as the target

was something entirely new.

It was a brilliant way of upping the ante.

NARRATOR: The demonstration had been hatched in tandem

with Harriot Stanton Blatch,

who'd led a deputation of 300 women to the president

just days before,

to secure his pledge for the federal amendment

as a memorial to Inez Milholland.

Wilson had refused.

"Until the orders of my party are changed,"

the president had told them,

"it is impossible for me

to do anything other than I am doing"

For Blatch, the only rational response was radical action.

BLATCH (dramatized): We have got to take a new departure.

We have got to bringto the president, individually,

day-by-day, week in and week out,

the idea that great numbers of women

want to be free, will be free,

and want to knowwhat he is going to do about it.

WALTON: It's now 1917.

They have not made any real progress

toward a federal amendment.

They can't point to any real success.

Something new was needed.

The whole idea was to putpressure on the decision makers

and to get under the skin of Wilson.

"You are not going to ignore this movement."

NARRATOR: At first, the protests seemeda source of amusement to Wilson,

who tipped his hat to the women

as he passed through the White House gates.

On the second day,

when the temperature hovered at 35 degrees

and the pickets were reduced to perching on hot bricks

and taking turns with a donated muskrat coat,

he sent a messenger to ask them in for coffee,

a kindness they refused.

By the fourth day, everyone involved

had come to regard the demonstration

as a trial to be endured.

"We are all worn out by the picketing,"

Alice Paul confessed to a friend,

"and how we shall keep it up until March 4

is a problem we cannot face with equanimity."

ZAHNISER: Alice Paul and her staff do

an incredible amount of outreach.

They are reaching out to nearby states,

to colleges, to small suffrage groups--

anybody they can think of

who would be interested

in coming to demonstrate at the White House

for the suffrage amendment.

NARRATOR: So desperate was Paul for fresh recruits

that she even issued invitations

to local African American activists,

setting aside her deep conviction that their presence

risked turning a woman's protest into a racial one.

53-year-old Mary Church Terrell,

a charter member of the NAACP and a longtime suffragist,

answered the call more than once,

though she'd long ago resigned herself to the fact

that white suffragists typically found it more expedient

to exclude her.

JONES: If you're a black woman,

white women's racism is not news.

Racism is the order of the day.

You know what that is.

But that's not exactly a reason to stay home.

CHATELAIN: African American women understood

that the right to vote was yet another tool

to try to dismantle the structures

that were still in place, even after the end of slavery,

and to ensure African American safety

and, perhaps, prosperity.

So Mary Church Terrell was willing

to join white women's protests to the extent

that she believed it would ultimately

deliver the vote for black women.

NARRATOR: For every show of solidarity,however, there was a defection.

Paul was bombarded with letters protesting the picket,

resignations, cancellations of "The Suffragist,"

even a plea from her mother to call off what she described

as the "undignified annoying of the president."

Instead, the vigil continued, day in and day out,

usually six days a week.

By way of explanation, Paul offered an analogy:

"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."

WALTON: Alice has never lost her focus on Woodrow Wilson.

And all of these years,

it's always been about Woodrow Wilson,

and it's still about Woodrow Wilson,

the man in the White House.

(trolley bell rings)

(children calling)

(bell tolling)

(cows mooing)

NARRATOR: For nearly three years,

while the countries of Europe had been consumed

by battle and bloodshed,

the rhythms of America's day-to-day had continued

with little variation or interruption.

It therefore came as something of a shock

when, in early February 1917,

Wilson answered Germany's ongoing aggression at sea

by severing diplomatic relations.

As lobbyist Maud Wood Park remembered,

"The importance of the slogan 'he kept us out of war'

"and the re-election of President Wilson

"had led to the belief that the United States

"would never be involved in the conflict.

"Overnight, it seemed,

the shadow of the Great War fell upon Washington."

ZAHNISER: The probability of war gave suffragists

some difficult choices.

Were they going to put the idea of gaining suffrage aside

for the duration of the war?

Or were they going to persist

in the suffrage struggle?

Or were they going to try to juggle both things?

NARRATOR: For Carrie Chapman Catt, the choice was a bitter one.

Like many suffragists, she was a lifelong pacifist,

and believed that women, once they voted,

would put an end to war.

Just two years earlier, she'd helped to found

the Women's Peace Party,

and had been advocating ever since

for disarmament and mediation in Europe.

But if American women refused to back their country now,

she reasoned,

they could hardly expect the country to back them.

BEHN: Carrie Chapman Catt is a pragmatic politician.

If she has to make a choice,

suffrage is going to be the priority for her,

and she's willing to sacrifice principle in other areas

to move forward that agenda.

NARRATOR: On February 5, as the nation grappled

with the implications of war,

Catt arrived in the capital

to have dinner at the White House.

Officially, she was the guest of the secretary of the Navy,

but the evening's host was President Wilson.

BEHN: This dinner comes at a really important time for Wilson.

He's facing the prospect of having to say

to many of those who voted for him,

"I am no longer able to keep us out of war."

For Catt, it's also a really important time.

There are major states--

New York being the most significant--

that are having a referenda in the fall of '17,

and she needs President Wilson's support.

So we don't know for sure what happens at that dinner.

There's no transcript of what they discussed.

But what we do know is what happens afterwards.

NARRATOR: Less than three weeks later,

in a hand-delivered letter to President Wilson,

the National Association offered its services

to the government of the United States.

Although it was made clearthat work on behalf of suffrage

would not be set aside,

the commitment to Wilson was unequivocal:

"In the event they should be needed,

"and insofar as we are authorized,

"we pledge the loyal support

of our more than two million members."

WEISS: Carrie Catt takes the approach

that, "If we can prove to Wilson

"that American women can be trusted,

"are citizens, are patriots,

"are willing to step up, are willing to support him,

then maybe we canslowly, slowly turn him around."

She also makes one of the great compromises of her life.

And she's kicked out of the Women's Peace Party.

She is snubbed by her fellow pacifists.

And she does this because she feels

this will help gain support for the federal amendment.

NARRATOR: Alice Paul, for her part,

expressed no support for the war,

and the daily protest at the White House gates went on,

to the mounting consternation of not only President Wilson

and the men of Congress,

but also Harriot Stanton Blatch,

who believed that in a time of national crisis,

picketing ought not to be pursued.

Even Paul's mentor,

the implacable Britishsuffragette Emmeline Pankhurst,

had set her demand for the vote aside

when England went to war.

But Paul refused to back down.

PAUL (dramatized): When the Civil War began,

Susan B. Anthony was told the same things

we are being told today:

If she'd only drop her suffrage work

and become an abolitionist,

women would be given the vote as a reward

as soon as the war was over.

She did drop her work, and as a result,

all legislation in which women were interested

was promptly dropped.

WALTON: Alice said, "I'm not going to make that mistake again.

"We are going to continue the battle

"for the federal amendment.

We are going to continue picketing."

And they did.

NARRATOR: The pickets remained at the White House gates

all through February.

They were still there on the eve of Wilson's second inaugural

on March 3--

a contingent of hundreds,

who marched the half-mile around the White House

four times in a drenching rain,

chanting "votes for women."

And when President Wilson asked Congress

for a declaration of war on April 2,

the pickets took up their vigil once more.

By then, the battle lines within the suffrage movement

had been clearly drawn--

Paul on one side, Catt on the other,

and between them, a president who, by his own account,

was willing to go to war

to make the world safe for democracy.

BEHN: Catt and Paul are very similar in many ways.

Both have these incredibly persuasive personalities,

and they are decisive and focused

once they've made decisions.

So it's interesting that two women,

both totally devoted to the same ultimate goal,

take such different andantagonistic paths to get there.

NARRATOR: The joint session of Congress

that President Wilson called in April 1917

was historic, not simply for the declaration of war

it was asked to consider,

but because for the first time,

a woman participated in the deliberations:

34-year-old Jeannette Rankin, a longtime suffragist,

now the newly elected Republican representative

from the free state of Montana.

When Rankin arrived in the House chamber that morning

as the first woman ever to hold federal office,

she was greeted with cordial applause.

After taking the oath of office,

she reintroduced the woman suffrage amendment

and made history again,

as the first of her sex to sponsor a bill in Congress.

And in the hours before dawn on April 6,

Rankin held fast to her pacifist convictions

and voted against sending American sons and husbands

to the killing fields of Europe.

Although 50 others voted with her,

Rankin's dissent made no difference,

and the nation woke that morning

to the prospect of imminent war--

a prospect many suffragists regarded as an opportunity.

Over the months to come,

as the draft plucked tens of thousands,

then millions of young men

out of the workforce,

women would slip in to replace them.

(machinery rumbling)

They took jobs in foundries, oil refineries,

blast furnaces.

They manufactured explosives and armaments,

tools and airplane parts,

uniforms for the armed forces.

(machinery clicking)

As Harriot Stanton Blatch put it:

"When men go a-warring, women go to work.

"War compels women to work.

That is one of its merits."

DUBOIS: Blatch said one of the dirty secrets of war

is that it's good for women.

She thought it would help women enter into industry.

And it did.

JAD ADAMS: It was a massive modern war.

And there was a vast hinterland of people

who needed to be involved to get those armies out there

and to get them active.

And so women could justify

by their war effort

the fact that they were patriots, too.

NARRATOR: In Washington, the Wilson administration

moved to avail itself of the support

Carrie Chapman Catt and others had pledged,

and created the Women's Committee

of the Council for National Defense,

the first governmental entity

entirely comprised of and focused on women.

With Anna Howard Shaw,

Catt's predecessor at the National Association,

as chairwoman,

and Catt one of the committee of ten,

the council marshaled the resources

of scores of women's organizations

and put them in service to their nation's defense:

coordinating the cultivation and distribution of food,

providing assistance to the Red Cross,

promoting patriotism among recent immigrants.

Caps were knitted for soldiers,

Liberty Bonds sold,

and more than $100,000 raised

to maintain a hospital in France.

74 women of the National Suffrage Association,

most of them physicians or nurses,

volunteered to go abroad to staff it.

Catt, meanwhile, saw to it

that their good turns fordemocracy did not go unnoticed.

WEISS: They run a very sophisticated public relations outfit

out of New York,

pumping out articles about women in the war

and all the wonderful things they're doing.

They send these to newspapers around the country.

This is the mass media of the time.

There's not even radio at this point.

This is how America is learning

what women are doing for the war.

BEHN: Catt talks of women's war service

as being equivalent to military service.

It's as if she's leading a military organization,

an army of women.

And that's the phrase that she uses.

The army of women organized for suffrage

are now organized in support of the nation

during a time of war.

KEYSSAR: The argument going back to the revolutionary period was,

if you carry a musket,

you should have the right to vote.

It was there in the revolution,it was there in the War of 1812,

it was there in the Civil War.

Women weren't carrying guns in World War I,

but they're making the argument

that they are critical to the war effort,

and thus the right to vote should be extended to them.

(ship whistle blows)

NARRATOR: On June 20, 1917,

as the first American troops neared France,

the National Woman's Party pickets

launched their sixth month of protest

with a bold provocation:

a banner, fully ten feet wide,addressed not to the president,

but to a party of Russian diplomats,

who motored through the White House gate, as expected,

just moments later.

"They say we are a democracy.

Help us win a world war so that democracies may survive,"

the banner read.

"We, the women of America,

tell you that America is not a democracy."

Wilson unwittingly had given the women a great gift

when he said, "This is a war

so that the world will be made safe for democracy."

Essentially, they're calling Wilson a liar.

How can you call America a democracy

when 20 million American women cannot vote?

NARRATOR: The visiting Russians would later express support

for the demonstration,

but to the hundreds of government workers

milling about on their lunch hour,

it smacked of treason.

Within moments,two men-- one wielding a knife--

set upon the pickets and tore the banner from its frame.

Once America enters the war,

everyone was expected to do their part.

They were supposed to be good patriots.

They weren't supposedto be questioning the president.

DUBOIS: These women become traitors.

They become people who are refusing

to stand up for their nation during a war.

NARRATOR:Wilson wanted the pickets gone.

"I daresay you heard about the fracas raised

by the representatives of the Woman's Party,"

he wrote his daughter.

"They certainly seem bent upon making their cause

as obnoxious as possible."

CASSIDY: I think he hated Alice Paul with a passion.

She was a thorn in his side constantly.

He tried to ignore it.

He made the women think he was ignoring them,

but you know he was peeking through the curtains

to see what they were up to.

WALTON: Something has to be done, and it's very difficult,

because nothing the women are doing has changed.

They're still standing on this rather wide sidewalk

holding up banners.

It's the conduct of the peoplewatching them that has changed.

NARRATOR: The district police moved quickly

to shut the vigil down.

At first, pickets were arrested when they reached their posts,

spuriously charged with obstructing traffic,

then released to await a court summons that never came.

But after making 27 arrests in just five days,

the authorities began to bring the women to trial.

Some were paid suffrage organizers,

long active in the movement.

Some were new recruits.

They were teachers, nurses, and munitions workers,

as well as daughters and wives of the socially prominent.

Given a choice between a fine and freedom

or a brief stint in jail,

most chose jail.

WARE: The kind of women who were on the picket lines

were generally white, middle-class women

who never would have been arrested.

They, it just would have been incomprehensible.

But a lot of them, I think, just decided

this was something they felt they had to do.

ZAHNISER: They were coming from a great distance,

many of them without telling their families

what they were going to do.

So, it galvanized the troops around Alice Paul.

DUBOIS: She had this single-minded quality of commitment,

believing that anything could be done.

There were no obstacles.

And so she called out the best in them.

She insisted that they do what was necessary, and they did.

WARE:And once that decision was made, nothing would stop them.

As soon as they're out of jail,

they're back out on the picket line the next day.

NARRATOR: Across America, the outrage mounted.

Week by week, editorials denouncing the protest

filled so many column inches

that Carrie Chapman Catt felt compelled

to launch a campaign of clarification,

stressing that the National Association,

which represented the vast majority of suffragists,

did not support the picketing.

DUBOIS: When Paul's forces begin to be arrested,

that's when Catt loses it.

I think she disagrees with it personally,

she feels it's insulting to the president,

but she also feels, more importantly,

that it is a terrible policy to engage in

and will hurt suffrage.

BEHN: Catt and the National become

even more attractive to Wilson

because they've got the dramatic foil of the Woman's Party

working for them.

And once Catt's made it clear to Wilson

who she and the National are,

as in contrast to the National Woman's Party,

he's sort of driven even more into their arms.

NARRATOR: By midsummer, the pickets' intractability

had become so vexing to President Wilson

that his administrationconspired with local newspapers

to minimize coverage of the vigil,

hoping a lack of publicity would tamp it down.

But Alice Paul upped the ante again

and sent women out in August

with an incendiary banner composed by Lucy Burns,

which compared Woodrow Wilsonto the leader of enemy Germany.

Several days of near-riots followed,

as again and again, pickets with identical banners

were attacked by furious mobs.

(people shouting)

Women were knocked down, kicked,

dragged across the pavement.

At one point, a crowd of several thousand--

mostly government clerks, soldiers, and sailors--

swarmed the Woman's Party headquarters,

hurling eggs and stones.

(gun fires, glass shatters)

A bullet was even fired through a balcony window.

Although police did little to the quell the violence,

the arrests continued apace.

Between mid-August and the end of September,

29 women were put behind bars, some at the district jail,

others at the Occoquan Workhouse,

an open-barrack prison on the Potomac River.

Sentences now ran between 30 and 60 days.

ZAHNISER: As the sentences grow longer

for simply standing in front of the White House gates,

more people begin to be concerned.

President Wilson begins to get letters

from people who are supportive of him

and saying they are not supportive of the pickets,

and yet, the length of time in jail,

the conditions that are reported,

seem to be wholly out of proportion to any crime

these women may have committed.

NARRATOR: Rumblings of disapproval could be heard

even within Wilson's inner circle.

His former campaign manager, Dudley Field Malone,

registered his protest

by abruptly resigning his lucrative post

as collector of the Port of New York.

Then he offered to represent the pickets in court.

If men had been demanding the vote

and ignored by the government for decades,

Malone told the president,

"their inevitable impatience and righteous indignation

would be understood."

Yet the penalties for picketing only grew stiffer.

First-time offenders arrested in October were given six months.

Alice Paul got more.

PAUL (dramatized): Dear Mother, I have been sentenced today

to seven months' imprisonment.

Dora Lewis is going on with the work in my place

and will be at headquarters.

Please do not worry.

It will merely be a delightful rest.

With love, Alice.

NARRATOR: On October 27, 1917,

one week after Alice Paul was handed down her sentence,

Carrie Chapman Catt leda phalanx of 20,000 suffragists

down New York City's Fifth Avenue.

Together, on their placards, they carried the signatures

of more than a million women

to a petition demanding the right to vote.

The afternoon was chilly, but spirits were high.

In ten days, New York voters would go to the polls

to determine whether or not the women of the state

should be permitted to join them,

and the marchers were confident

their claim could not be denied.

WALTON: Women have worked very hard for the war effort.

They've repaired trains.

They've actually keptthe transportation system going.

They have raised crops.

They're feeding the troops in Europe.

They're feeding the Allies.

How are you going to tell these women

they're not entitled to the vote?

NARRATOR: It had been four decades since the woman suffrage measure

first had been brought to the New York legislature,

and the one and only popular referendum

ever held in the state, in 1915,

had been bitterly defeated.

But Carrie Chapman Catt

had been working 12- to 14-hour days all year,

with her "Winning Plan" always in her sights.

KEYSSAR: Carrie Chapman Catt was looking at 36 states.

We needed ratification by 36 states.

She was focused on lobbying members of Congress.

She was meeting with Woodrow Wilson to try to win him over.

BEHN: Catt puts a lot of stock in Wilson's support,

and she cultivates that relationship with him.

Over the course of 1917,

Catt and Wilson exchange 30 letters.

Almost every other week,

they're writing back and forth to one another.

She's counting on him to weigh in

with governors and legislators in key states.

NARRATOR : Though the president remained staunch in his opposition

to a federal amendment,

he'd obligingly thrown his weight

behind Catt's state campaigns.

Thanks to his influence, and the tireless efforts

of thousands of unsung heroines on the ground,

five states recently had followed the Illinois example

and extended either presidential suffrage or primary suffrage

to women,

dramatically enhancing their political clout.

A victory in New York, the most populous state in the country,

would add as many as 45pro-suffrage votes in Congress,

and the National Association had pulled out all the stops

to secure them.

For months on end, suffragists had tramped over

the nearly 50,000 square miles of the state,

collecting signatures door-to-door.

An enormous campaign coalition had been built,

comprised not only

of working-class and immigrant women,

but also, crucially, African American women,

many of whom had been actively working

for the ballot for years,

through black women's clubs,

equal suffrage leagues, the NAACP,

and who were able to tap a population of male voters

too sizable to ignore.

JONES: When we focus on the national story,

we see the near impossibility

of black and white women working

in tight and equal coalition with one another.

But in a place like New York City,

things are possible

that are not possible on a national scale.

And when African American women see an opening,

they are prepared to mobilize their clubs

into real political power.

NARRATOR: Most promising to Catt was the continued return

on her investment with President Wilson,

who publicly expressed his hope "that the people of New York

"will realize the great occasionthat faces them on election day

and respond to it in a noble fashion."

Tammany Hall, the powerful Democratic machine

that dominated New York City politics,

was quick to follow Wilson's lead,

and, on the eve of the election,

reversed its longtime opposition to woman suffrage.

KEYSSAR: If you are a politician, you don't want to stake out

a strong position on a losing side

where you're in opposition to people

who might become enfranchised anyway,

especially a lot of people-- like half the population.

So that what happens at that point,

when they're looking at the endgame,

they say, "Let's get on the bandwagon."

NARRATOR: On election night,

as newsboys roamed the streets below,

hawking late editions,

Carrie Chapman Catt stood in a window

of the National Association's headquarters on Fifth Avenue

and watched as the building

that housed the anti-suffrage "Times"

flashed its rooftop spotlight,

a signal that the women of New York

at last had won the right to vote.

At a victory celebration the next day,

before an auditorium packed to the rafters,

Catt opened her remarks with the words "fellow citizens."

(people cheering and applauding)

What came next was drowned out by cheers.

(applause continues)

But Catt had no time for jubilation.

She'd already turned her mind to what lay ahead.

"The victory is not New York's alone," she declared.

"It's the nation's.

The 65th Congress will now pass the federal amendment."

DUBOIS:Catt called the New York victory

the Gettysburg of suffrage.

Meaning it was the battle that turned the tide.

But it wasn't the battle that ended the war.

(people shouting in background)

NARRATOR:Word of the triumph in New Yorklikely did not reach Alice Paul,

who'd been behind bars for more than two weeks at that point.

(glass shatters, shouting continues)

On her second day in,

she'd incited her fellowsuffrage prisoners to rebellion,

encouraging them to fling shoes, tin drinking cups--

whatever they could lay their hands on--

through the high windows, just as she'd done

eight years earlier in a London jail.

For that, she was placed in solitary confinement,

cell door bolted round the clock, no mail, no visitors.

PAUL (dramatized): However gaily you start out in prison

to keep up a rebellious protest,

it is nevertheless a terribly difficult thing to do

in the face of the constant coldand hunger of undernourishment.

NARRATOR: By the end of the second week, the daily ration

of worm-riddled pork and dry bread

had left Paul so feeble

she had to be transferred to the jail's hospital.

There, she decided the time had come

to declare a hunger strike,

another tactic she'd mastered during her time

in the British suffragette army.

DUBOIS: Hunger strikes are now an understood way

of drawing publicity to a movement that's otherwise

up against a political power that they can't stop.

CASSIDY: They were being arrested repetitively,

and she needed to do something to break the cycle.

And a hunger strike was yet again

taking it to the next level.

NARRATOR: Paul refused nourishment for three days.

On the fourth, she was carted by stretcher

to the psychopathic ward,

tied down,

and force-fed a mixture of milk and eggs

through a tube shoved down her throat.

This she would endure twice daily

so long as she remained in jail.

BEHN: Alice Paul is singularly focused,

almost to the point

where you could characterize her as a zealot for suffrage.

She is by all accounts an absolute force of nature.

Once she's made a decision on a strategy,

she believes in her heart and in all of her actions

that she's doing the right thing.

NARRATOR:The news of Paul's ordeal, which played all across the country,

was followed by yet more pickets,

more arrests, more suffragists standing trial.

WALDMAN: This was an extraordinary innovation

in the tactics of protests--

people deliberately getting arrested, hunger strikes,

doing it for the media.

And it was the first time you had

this kind of non-violent, ongoing civil disobedience

on a great public issue

in the nation's capital.

It had never been done before in the United States.

CHATELAIN: The fact that a woman will put her body on the line

for her right to be a citizen

is considered shocking.

But women are realizing

that if they don't act in these ways, nothing will change.

NARRATOR: In mid-November, no fewer than 34 women

appeared before the district judge.

Only one paid the fine--

and then only because her husband, a former congressman,

insisted upon it.

The rest were sent to Occoquan,

with sentences of varying lengths.

In recognition of her advanced age,

73-year-old Mary Nolan received the lightest-- of six days.

Lucy Burns, who'd only just been released

from her first stint at Occoquan,

got seven months.

When they demanded to be treated as political prisoners,

the pickets were met with flagrant brutality.

Seized upon by guards, they were beaten,

dragged through the corridors, and thrown into cells.

Burns, labeled the ringleader,

was handcuffed and left overnight

with her arms chained to the top of her cell door.

The women would later refer to the experience

as the "Night of Terror."

By morning, more than half of them,

including ringleader Burns,

had joined Alice Paul's hunger strike.

SMEAL: The harsh treatment begot sympathy,

and people thought it had to stop.

This is outrageous, why are you doing this to these women?

NARRATOR: On November 23, lawyers for the pickets

successfully persuaded the court

to transfer the Occoquanprisoners to the district jail.

Struck by the appearance of the women,

some of whom were plainly on the verge of collapse,

the presiding judge followed up three days later

with an inquiry to the jail's superintendent.

Are there prisoners in your custody, he asked,

whose health might be endangered by serving further time?

The superintendent's reply was unambiguous:

"All of the suffragists."

CASSIDY: They were incredibly weak and beaten up.

Well, they hadn't eaten in days, and nobody wanted to have

a dead suffragist on their hands.

NARRATOR: Alice Paul and the others on hunger strike

were the first to be released.

They passed through the gates of the district jail

just hours later,

some too frail to walk without aid,

and were met by a clutch of reporters

seeking comment from Miss Paul.

PAUL (dramatized): We were put out of jail as we were put in,

at the whim of the government.

They tried to terrorize and suppress us.

They could not, so they freed us.

We hope that no more demonstrations

will be necessary.

But what we do depends entirelyon what the administration does.

NARRATOR:The news broke six weeks later,

in headlines from coast to coast.

With the House of Representatives finally set

to vote on the federal suffrage amendment,

Wilson had met privately with a dozen key Democrats

and had urged the amendment's passage,

calling it "an act of right and justice."

BEHN: Early on, if you were going to put money down

on whether or not Wilson would become a fierce advocate

going to personally plea with Congress

on behalf of the federal woman suffrage amendment,

that would not have been a good bet.

But things changed pretty significantly

by the middle of his second term.

NARRATOR:Just days before, in what would come to be called

his "Fourteen Points" speech,

Wilson had outlined his plan for the end of the Great War

and his grand vision for a lasting peace.

But if he were to have any hope of achieving it,

he'd need to keep control of Congress.

BEHN: Wilson is doing whatever he possibly can

to try to help Democrats win in the 1918 midterm elections,

and one thing that is going to be used against them

in state after state

is their opposition to suffrage.

ZAHNISER: I don't think he at heart changed his mind

about where women's place was.

But over time,

between Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul,

he became convinced of thepolitical expediency for himself

and, more importantly, for his party

of putting through the constitutional amendment.

NARRATOR: By late morning on January 10, 1918,

it was standing-room-only in the House,

with nervous suffragists counting and recounting

their too-close-to-call tallies.

When at last the clerk announced the final vote--

274 in favor, 136 opposed--

a mad cheer went up from the galleries.

The amendment had passedthe required two-thirds majority

by a single vote.

As exultant suffragists made their way

through the Capitol corridors and out into the streets,

crying and singing hymns,

few could doubt that Wilson's last-minute support

had made a difference.

What accounted for his conversion

was less clear.

WEISS: Carrie Catt believed that it was her slow cultivation,

her slow political seduction of him,

proving American women deserved the vote,

proving their patriotism through wartime,

proving their citizenship.

And Alice Paul claims credit

because she embarrassed him in the eyes of the world

by calling him a hypocrite.

They were both right.

BEHN: You could make the argument that Catt and Paul

were almost working in tandem,

and that if you didn't know better

and if you didn't know the level of animosity that existed,

you might think that this was actually a strategy.

KEYSSAR: This is not unusual in social political movements.

What happens is that there is a split-off

of a more militant wing.

And there are severe disagreements

about tactics and strategy.

But the upshot of it is

that the two efforts work very well together,

where the more militant wing

is really pushing things forward and shifting the agenda,

and calling a lot of attention.

But it makes the mainstream seem much more acceptable.

SMEAL: The reality is, the moderate looks moderate

only because somebody out there

is making a fool of themselves

or pushing in the line a little further.

If not, they're the radical!

NARRATOR: When Alice Paul's boisterous troops returned

to the Woman's Party headquarters,

flush from the House victory,

they found Miss Paul was already there, bent over her desk.

"11 votes to winbefore we can pass the Senate,"

was all she said.

CATT (dramatized): The long-anticipated success has come at last,

and our federal amendment, after 49 years of struggle,

is through the House.

The woman's hour has struck!

Please start at once a series of letters and telegrams

to your senators.

We won by a single vote in the House;

we may be beaten by a single vote in the Senate.

Leave no stone unturned.

Put on your armor, mobilize your army,

and be ready!

Yours for final victory before 1920!

NARRATOR: When she wrote to her lieutenants

in early January 1918,

Carrie Chapman Catt was confident

they'd make short work of the Senate.

So much so that she had a new dress sewn

for the ratification campaign,

in her favorite shade of blue.

But week after week, the dress went unworn.

Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,

had sailedthrough both houses of Congress

just before the new year.

But on the suffrage amendment, the Senate refused to budge.

A vote scheduled for March was blocked by opponents

and delayed until May, then delayed once more.

It wasn't until September

that the bill finally came to the floor for debate,

and by then, no one was more anxious for it to pass

than the president.

The end of the Great War was finally in sight--

the German army all but defeated--

and Wilson, intent on dictating the terms of the peace,

was looking to boost his credibility abroad.

ADAMS:America, having built itself up as a power,

was now assuming a role as a world leader.

But America was no longer a world leader

in terms of democracy.

The U.S. was actually falling

behind other comparable countries

like Russia and Germany and the United Kingdom,

who had all enfranchised women before America did.

BEHN: There's this perception that Wilson is working against

as he prepares to negotiate the peace

as the beacon of democracy,

that he lacks some moral foundation.

And so he's working to getthat liability off of his sheet.

NARRATOR: "We have made partners of the women in this war,"

Wilson insisted to the Senate on September 30.

"Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering

"and sacrifice and toil,

and not to a partnership of privilege and right?"

The president's appeal changed not a single vote.

The next day, the suffrage measure failed,

with more than half of the nayscoming from Southern Democrats.

The federal woman suffrage amendment,

Senator Underwood of Alabama argued,

would be "the final overthrow

"of the very life and integrity

of these state governments."

Southerners were very frightened

of black women getting enfranchised.

You know, the senator from Mississippi said,

"That will be the end of white supremacy

if black women get the vote."

Tillman of South Carolina says,"Black women are more aggressive

"than even men at the polls.

We can't allow them to be enfranchised."

BEHN: Wilson cannot convince Southern senators

to change their position.

The calculus for them is different than it is for him.

They can be outflanked on the right

in their home states

if they appear the least bit soft

on the issue of white supremacy.

NARRATOR: Echoing a widely held view,

one columnist pronounced the amendment dead

in the 65th Congress.

Nevertheless, the suffragists persisted.

(crowd yelling)

Even as the war came to an end in November 1918,

and Wilson departed soon after for Paris

to negotiate the peace,

they continued protesting.

Only now,

instead of merely throwing the president's words back at him,

the women set them ablaze

across from the White House, in Lafayette Square.

They kept on organizing and educating,

lobbying and canvassing,

until, as Carrie Chapman Catt said later,

the struggle filled their days and rode their nights.

The ongoing work in the states carried out by women

of diverse ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities,

had expanded the suffrage column by three in 1918,

bringing the total number of states

in which women could vote in national elections

to 21.

Still, the amendment idled in the Senate,

while Southern opponents put forward various modifications

designed to limit the franchise to white women.

By early 1919,

after more than a year of inaction,

suffrage leaders were prepared to compromise.

As she dispatched 26 members of the Woman's Party

on a national speaking tour,

with the slogan "From Prison to People,"

Alice Paul clarified her objectives

to the press.

"Negro men cannot vote in South Carolina,"

she told the "New York World," by way of example,

"and therefore Negro women could not

"if women were to vote in the nation.

We are organizing white women in the South."

GIDDINGS: Alice Paul was one of those people who believed

that anything other than suffrage

would dilute and diminish the issue.

And so, in some of these meetings

where there were black women,

they would talk about that they wanted to deal

also with race as a part of this.

And she said absolutely not.

JONES: This struggle is going onat the same time that the nation

is resolving, still, the Civil War.


By jettisoning black Americans

from the story and from the actual political culture.

So maybe we shouldn't be so surprised

that some American women come to that same notion

of a compromise.

Which is that African Americans might be dispensable

for other kinds of goals.

NARRATOR:But African American suffragists refused to be sidelined,

and, spurred by a complaint from Mary Church Terrell,

the NAACP issued a formal resolution

condemning Alice Paul's remarks.

The 6,000 members

of the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women's Clubs,


applied for membership in the National Association,

fully expecting to be told

that the timing was not advantageous.

When Carrie Chapman Catt,

through the National's secretary,

begged them to withdraw the application

for the sake of the amendment's passage,

the federation's president, Elizabeth Carter,

readily agreed, on the condition

that the National pledge to stand for the amendment

as originally drawn, without modification.

CHATELAIN: The Northeast Federation of Colored Women's Clubs

realizes that they need to keep the issue of race

within this conversation of women's suffrage.

And so they are forcing women

at the front of the suffrage issue

to really kind of confess their sins.

And it's strategic and it's an act of disruption,

as well as a challenge to organizations

that had been poised to ignore black women.

NARRATOR:In the end, only the Democrats' loss in the midterm elections

broke the political stalemate,

and it was a new Republican-controlled Congress

that finally passed the federal woman suffrage amendment,

exactly as written more than 40 years before.

The measure squeaked through the Senate at last

on June 4, 1919,

with a scant two votes more

than the required two-thirds majority.

WALDMAN: It wasn't like the men of the political process

woke up one day

and said, "You know what?This is the right thing to do."

It was won by inches.

KEYSSAR:Perhaps the most important thing that that says to us

is that democratic advances have not been achieved

in this country

by everybody standing up and shouting and agreeing.

There has always been a strong opposition

to the enlargement of democratic rights.

NARRATOR: When the legislation

had been first introduced in the Senate in 1878,

it was meant to be

the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

More than four decades on,

it was leaving Capitol Hill as the 19th.

Given what still lay ahead,

few suffragists paused to mark the accomplishment.

As one remembered it, they"simply made a beeline for home

to start the campaign for ratification."

DUBOIS: The endurance, the incredible endurance, of these women

to keep fighting.

There actually is no single reform movement

that focused on one single goal--

nothing like it exists in American history.

To fight and fight and fight and fight and fight

for the same thing for so many years.

NARRATOR:After years of militant protest,

the image was at least improbable:

Alice Paul, needle and thread in hand,

patiently stitching satin stars to a flag,

a gambit for publicity she dubbed

"the Betsy Ross of Suffrage."

When a similar photograph,

featuring another Woman's Party member in the role of Ross,

appeared on the cover of "The Suffragist" in mid-July 1919,

the flag bore 11 stars, one for each of the states

that had already ratified the 19th Amendment.

Subsequent editions would track its progress

through the state houses of America.

WEISS: Three-quarters of the states have to ratify

any federal amendment.

There are 48 states in 1920.

That means 36 states have to ratify.

There were not 36 states at that point

that already allowed women to vote.

Nowhere near that close.

And so, each state to add to that

was a real battle.

NARRATOR: In capitals both north and south,

from Boston, Massachusetts, to Austin, Texas,

the decades-long struggle was re-enacted once more.

Governors, asked to call special sessions, dug in their heels.

Legislators debated and wavered.

And organized anti-suffrage women,

who for years had beendistracted by the war in Europe,

surfaced once again to plead

that their sex be left out of the electorate.

It took the suffragists a full year,

but as of mid-June 1920,

35 states had ratified the amendment.

Eight more-- seven of them in the Solid South--

had rejected it.

Three others refused even to consider it.

That left as a possible 36th only North Carolina,

where defeat was all but certain,

and Tennessee, which just the previous year

had extended presidential voting rights to women

in a bitterly contested battle

that split the dominant Democratic Party.

Tennessee's governor, Albert Roberts,

at first refused to call a special session.

Then, in late June, came a wire from President Wilson,

who pressed the governor to deliver the final state

so that the Democrats could take credit for it.

Roberts-- who liked to say that Wilson was his Moses--

compliantly set the date for Monday, August 9.

WEISS: The suffragists do not want to stage this in Tennessee.

Tennessee is a border state.

Part of it had actually supported the Union

during the Confederacy.

But it's still a Southern state,

and it's still a terrible placeto have to put all your marbles

for the last possible ratification.

There is a presidential election looming in the fall,

the first election since the end of World War I,

and a time when the whole world is realigning

and America's going to have to make big decisions

about its role in the world.

The suffragists want to be part of this,

and they've come to the very threshold.

So, Tennessee becomes the last hope.

For both the suffragists and the anti-suffragists,

it's the last stand.

(train whistle blares)

NARRATOR: They began to converge on Nashville

during the first, abysmally hot week

in August 1920.

Suffragists and anti-suffragists,

legislators, lobbyists, reporters--

all of them primed for the final showdown.

Carrie Chapman Catt had been in town for a month already,

preparing the legislative ground

from her third-floor suite at the Hermitage Hotel.

WEISS:Carrie Catt has been leading the fieldwork for the suffragists.

They want legislators to commit in advance,

to sign a paper saying,

"Yes, I'm going to vote for the federal amendment."

They send Tennessee women

out to every town and hamlet

and say, "We are your constituents.

You have to sign this."

And, so, by their count, they have the votes.

NARRATOR:But now, as new arrivals crowded into town,

Catt had a dark sense of foreboding.

WEISS: The anti-suffragists also have their headquarters

in the Hermitage Hotel.

And you have the corporate lobbyists and the politicians

who have come in from all over the country,

and they're also staying in the hotel.

Even though Prohibition is already in effect,

they open what they call the Jack Daniels suite

on the eighth floor,

a 24/7 speakeasy

where liquor is dispensed morning, noon, and night

to any legislator who will come up and listen

to the arguments why they should vote against suffrage.

And there's money being passed,

there's threats being made,

to get them to change their vote.

NARRATOR: Alice Paul, stuck in Washington, D.C.,

raising funds for the ratification campaign,

got word of the shady dealings from Sue White,

a veteran picketer and native Tennessean

whom Paul had put in charge of the Woman's Party efforts

on the ground.

"Nobody will say how bulk of Republicans will vote,"

White wrote Paul.

"Some reports antis using money.

Wish greatly you were here."

At noon on Monday, August 9, the pounding of gavels

brought both the Tennessee Senate and House to order--

and set in motion

one of the most contentiousand chaotic legislative sessions

in the history of the republic.

Employing a series of procedural high jinks--

purposeful clerical errors, resolutions to delay,

maddening adjournments--

opponents of the amendment first managed

to stall the Senate vote until Friday,

leaving legislators with little to do all week

but mingle at the Hermitage.

WEISS: Carrie Catt convenes her suffragists and says,

"Okay, how many of these legislators

"are susceptible to bribes?

Yes, we have his pledge, but is it reliable?"

And what they find is, those pledges begin to get reneged.

NARRATOR: By the time the Senate passed the amendment 25 to four,

the vote in the House had been postponed.

Worse still, Speaker Seth Walker,

who had originally pledged aye,

had double-crossed the suffragists,

and vowed to bring with him as many House members

as he could muster.

Tallies made Friday night indicated

ratification would fail by two votes.

It was a trying weekend, with drunken legislators

wandering the halls of the Hermitage

and weary suffragists keeping watch

over their pledged delegates,

lest any one of them slip away.

WEISS:The suffragists see the erosion of their support,

and they know that it's other influences

that are coming to bear.

They realize they don't have the votes.

They're probably going to lose.

And Carrie Catt realizes

that she's been working for this cause for 30 years

and this may be it, this may be the end.

NARRATOR: On Wednesday, August 18,

after nine days of delays

and three-and-a-half hours of debate,

the suffrage measure finally moved

to a vote on the House floor.

In the galleries, anxious women reviewed their tallies--

two votes shy of the required majority.

The chief clerk began to call the roll:




Harry Burn was 24 years old,

the youngest member of the legislature

and a representative

of a strenuously anti-suffrage rural district.

But that morning, a page had handed him a letter

from his mother,

which spoke more loudly to Burn than did his constituents.

WEISS: It's a mother's letter.

She's asking him to go shopping for her in the big city

and buy some sheet music.

But she also says she's been reading the papers

and noticing he's not been supporting the suffragists,

and she admonishes him and says,

"Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt."

NARRATOR: To the astonishment of all, Harry Burn voted aye,

bringing the tally dead even.

And there it remained through the rest of the roll call.

Suffragists were already weeping softly,

when, at the last possible moment,

Banks Turner suddenly stood to address the speaker.

The 30-year-old farmer had been counted as an opponent,

but he'd kept silent when the roll was called.

Now he announced he wished to be recorded

as having voted aye.

Catt, who'd elected to wait out the vote at the Hermitage,

could hear the roar in the galleries

clear across the street.

WEISS: Carrie Catt's window faces the State House,

and she hears shouting,

and she realizes this is it.

The dream of her life was coming true.

NARRATOR: Outside the State House, Harry Burn paused

to exchange congratulations

with Banks, Turner, and the suffragists,

but only briefly,

having fled the torrentof insults in the House chamber

through a window in the clerk's room.

SMEAL: The closeness of the vote

shows you how important the struggle is,

and shows you you weren't just fighting windmills.

There is always an opponent, and that opponent has power,

and they are yielding only because they have to.

NARRATOR: The rush wire from Nashville soon reached

a waiting Alice Paul,

who hastily stitched to her ratification banner

the long-awaited 36th star.

Eight days later, on August 26, 1920,

72 years after the movement for woman suffrage

first stirred into being,

Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby

certified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,

and with his seal,

enfranchised 26 million women of voting age.

WEISS: The phrase you hear is,

"In 1920, American women were given the vote."

It drives me crazy.

The struggle for women's suffrage

takes over seven decades.

The women who began the movement

didn't live to see it come to fruition.

And the women who took it over the finish line

weren't born when it began.

And so, you have these three generations of American women

who all come together

in this extraordinary movement for equality.

WARE: To reduce that to women being given the vote

or granted the vote,

it just does a disservice to what is clearly

one of the most sustained and successful moments

of political mobilization

in all of American history.

It wasn't just given to them.

Women fought for the right to vote,

and they won the right to vote.

NARRATOR:When Americans went to the polls in November 1920,

an estimated nine million women were among them,

only a third of the eligible female electorate,

but roughly three times the number who'd been active

in the suffrage movement's final phase.

Many were African Americans,

who had eagerly registered to vote

wherever they were able--

from Massachusetts and Maryland to Ohio.

But elsewhere, as one journalist observed,

black women had the right to vote

"in name only."

Denied access to the polls by individual states,

as black men throughout the South had been--

on grounds not specifically prohibited

by the U.S. Constitution--

many thousands of African American women

and other women of color

would remain disenfranchised for decades yet to come.

GIDDINGS:If we're talking about fairness and equality and democracy,

the whole idea of reform is to do away

with as much discrimination as one can.

You might not be able to do it all at the same time,

but you got to go for it-- and you have to envision it.

NARRATOR: Votes for women,

as everyone who'd agitated for them well knew,

had merely forced open a door.

"It is incredible to me," Alice Paul remarked in 1921,

"that any woman should consider

the fight for full equality won."

But thanks to the 19th Amendment--

and the decades-long struggle that had secured it--

that fight had at least finally begun.

ZAHNISER: What the 19th Amendment meant for American democracy

is hard to overstate.

Half the population winning the vote is a tremendous step

towards this young country, America,

finally achieving the equality

that Thomas Jefferson wrote about

in the Declaration of Independence,

a huge step towards America

achieving its potential.

CHATELAIN: Any time you bring more people into full citizenship,

you create new standards and new expectations

for what a nation can do,

and so the 19th Amendment meant

that the concerns of women were important.

KEYSSAR: When you enfranchise half the population,

you're stripping away the argument

that this is a privilege,

this should be exercisedby only certain kinds of people.

The 19th Amendment

is absolutely critical to the affirmation

of voting as a right.

WALDMAN:The fight over the right to vote

has never just been about ideals.

It's always been about power, and who has it,

and who doesn't want to give it up.

We're still fighting over who has that power.

And that fight to vote

is the central story of American democracy.

It's about who we are as a country

and who gets to decide

what the policies of the government are.

NARRATOR: Like all those who had spent their lives

in pursuit of the ballot,

Carrie Chapman Catt was deeply conscious of its value,

and she'd closed out her career as a suffragist with a plea

that the newly enfranchised not lose sight

of what it was they had won.

CATT (dramatized): The vote is the emblem

of your equality, women of America,

the guaranty of your liberty.

Women have suffered agony of soul

which you never can comprehend

that you and your daughtersmight inherit political freedom.

That vote has been costly.

Prize it!

The vote is a power,

a weapon of offense and defense, a prayer.

Use it intelligently,

conscientiously, prayerfully.

Progress is calling to you to make no pause.



  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv