Nov. 2, 2010 — I received an e-mail from my parents a few weeks ago reminding me to vote today, Nov. 2. It wasn’t the typical e-mail on whom I should vote for or how it was a privilege to vote. It was a summary on what some of the women of the suffrage movement endured to get the Congress to pass the 19th Amendment.
I was surprised at what I was reading and decided to do more research. Many of the women who were called the Silent Sentinels endured the Nov.
15, 1917 Night of Terror at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. I still am trying to figure out why I never learned about these women in high school or college.
Innocent and defenseless, the women were jailed for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
By the dawn of Nov. 16, the women were barely alive because the warden allowed 40 prison guards to go on a rampage against 33 women wrongly convicted of obstructing sidewalk traffic. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals declared all the suffrage arrests, trials and punishments unconstitutional.
Lucy Burns was chained to her cell with her hands above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. Other inmates helped her by trying to lift her up to give her relief. She died in 1966.
Prison guards hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an ironbed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Alice Paul later protested the conditions protest in Occoquan, and she began a hunger strike, which led to her being moved to the prison’s psychiatric ward. Fear that she would die led to the doctor ordering her to be force-fed raw eggs through a plastic tube until she vomited. This continued for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
The suffragists were imprisoned because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food — all of it colorless slop —was infested with worms.
Eventually Wilson acquiesced and said he was for a woman’s right to vote. The story is compelling. Fifty years later, the story continued during the Civil Right movement.
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