Militant Woman Suffragists
By Thomas Dublin, Kathryn Kish Sklar, and Jill D. Zahniser
This edition of the Online Biographical Dictionary consists of biographical sketches of three distinct groups of woman suffrage activists:
• Black women suffragists
• Militant suffragists associated with the National Woman’s Party
• Mainstream suffragists affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association
In this essay we introduce the biographical sketches of suffragists associated with the National Woman’s Party (NWP).
The NWP emerged in 1916 out of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), fueled by discontent among younger, more militant suffragists at the moderate tactics of NAWSA in state-by-state efforts to secure women’s suffrage. The protest politics of Alice Paul's Congressional Union and later the National Woman's Party (NWP) reshaped the suffrage landscape between 1913 and 1920. NWP influence peaked in late 1917, when hundreds of women picketed the wartime White House to demand their right to vote. The picketing campaign attracted more wage earners and more women with radical sympathies than had previously joined NWP efforts.
Historians have written about the Party's leading figures--Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, and Inez Milholland. Yet, we know comparatively little about the hundreds more who interrupted their lives to picket, to organize during the western campaigns of 1914, 1916, and 1918, or to contribute their energy in other ways to the daily work of the Party. The lives of many of these women offer fascinating windows onto a wide variety of Progressive and feminist causes in the period surrounding World War I.
This group of biographical sketches is intended to inform students and scholars about the grassroots activists of the National Woman's Party and to spur more research into the lives of these women. The sketches have been assembled through a crowdsourcing process. We posted numerous online calls for volunteers and hundreds of respondents have written the sketches assembled in this edition. Thomas Dublin organized the dispersed volunteers and he and Jill Zahniser have copyedited and fact checked the resulting sketches.
This group of militant woman suffragists now includes about 420 women. The current OBD as of December 2019 includes 349 biographical sketches of women in this group. Crowdsourcing of the remaining suffrage militants is ongoing and we plan to post additional sketches every six months as they come to us from volunteers.
The names for this group of militant suffragists come from three distinct sources and we are grateful to Jill D. Zahniser who proposed this project in the first place and identified the first two groups of militant suffragists in this section of the Online Biographical Dictionary. The largest group of suffragists comes from Appendix 4 to Doris Stevens's Jailed for Freedom (1920), which lists every woman who spent time in jail for picketing the White House for woman suffrage; as Stevens notes, some women who were arrested did not actually serve time. For her list, Stevens worked with Paul and the NWP files, so, despite a few flaws, her list is the best available. The second group consists of NWP organizers and funders and activists noted in Inez Irwin's account, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party (1923) and issues of The Suffragist. Finally, the initial crowdsourcing work discovered NWP demonstrations in Boston and New York City after Woodrow Wilson’s return from the Versailles Peace Conference and we added additional suffragists identified in newspaper coverage of those demonstrations.
We will add new activists and new sketches to the list as information comes to us. If you would like to recommend additional militant women suffragists, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. On Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, see J.D. Zahniser & Amelia R. Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) and Sidney R. Bland, "'Never Quite as Committed as We'd Like': The Suffrage Militancy of Lucy Burns," Journal of Long Island History 17 (Summer 1981), 4-23. On Alva Belmont, see Sylvia D. Hoffert, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont: Unlikely Champion of Women's Rights (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), and Peter Geidel, "Alva E. Belmont," Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1993. On Inez Milholland, see Linda J. Lumsden, Inez: The Life and Times of Inez Milholland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).
2. Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920); Amelia Roberts Fry Collection, Alice Paul Institute, Mount Laurel, New Jersey; Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party (Fairfax, VA: Denlinger's, 1923/1977); Linda G. Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman's Party, 1913-1920 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991).