Document 19: Letter from Mrs. Lawrence Lewis to the Editor of The Nation, 26 March 1921, National Woman's Party Papers, 1913-1974, Library of Congress (Microfilm (1979), Reel 7).
In this letter to the editor of The Nation Dora Lewis responded to Freda Kirchwey's recent criticisms. She stated that the National Woman's Party strove to extend its facilities to the presentation of ideas from many different groups. Not all women who participated in the convention agreed. Many other members of the National Woman's Party left the convention disenchanted. Florence Kelley stated that the National Woman's Party was unconcerned with the problems of the working woman. Sarah Covin, who presented the majority resolution on the final day of the convention, stated that she had never seen a crowd less effective than this one. Many of the women believed that their problems were not addressed. There was more dissension within the Women's Party than Alice Paul or Dora Lewis were willing to admit and it was not all the result of disagreement over the race question.
March 26, 1921.
Editor. The Nation,
20 Vesey Street,
New York City.
My attention has been called to an article in The Nation of March 2, on the Woman's Party Convention and I wish to protest against the inaccuracies in this article. As National Treasurer of the Woman's Party and a member of its National Executive Committee I have first-hand knowledge of all points referred to in the article. We would gladly have furnished the writer of the article with the facts concerning the subjects she discusses and regret that she wrote the article without securing reliable information on the matters under review. The facts were easily obtainable and are easily verifiable.
Every statement in this article concerning the colored woman is incorrect.
1. Your article states that a delegation of colored women "requested an interview with Miss Paul so that they might take up with her the question of the disfranchisement of the women of their race. They were told Miss Paul was too busy to see them. They said they would wait till she had time. Finally grudgingly she yielded."
This statement is incorrect. This delegation to which you refer and a number of smaller delegations of colored women which requested to see Miss Paul, were told that they could see her at once. She not only saw them readily but changed her engagements for the purpose of seeing the various delegations at the time they wished and in order not to cause them to wait.
2. Your article states with regard to the memorial presented by a delegation of colored women which waited upon her, "Miss Paul was indifferent to this appeal and resented the presence of the delegation."
This statement is incorrect. I was present on this occasion and can state of my own knowledge that Miss Paul was neither indifferent to the appeal nor resented the presence of the delegation. She replied to this delegation, as to the many other delegations which asked her to take up work for their various causes, that she was not continuing as chairman of the organization and that anyone who had a program to offer for the Woman's Party, should go to the convention with this program. She stated that since she did not feel able personally to undertake any longer the responsibility for the work, she did not wish to urge upon the organization a program which she could not help to carry out. She stated to this delegation exactly as she did to every other delegation, that they would have every facility for bringing their cause before the convention.
3. Your article states that the chance of the colored women "of being heard at the convention was gone."
This is incorrect. The colored women were given the same opportunity as were white women of presenting their cause to the convention. The National Federation of Colored Women's Clubs was given the same recognition as every other national woman's organization when the statues of the suffrage pioneers were presented to the Capitol. The banner of the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs was carried in the procession on this occasion and the organization was represented by the same number of participants as was every other organization, the participants being chosen by the president of the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. This organization had speakers of its own choosing before the resolutions committee, as was the case with all organizations wishing to present a program to the convention. Colored women who were delegates had the same right to speak from the floor as had other delegates. The colored women were invited, in addition, to present their point of view, through anyone whom they chose, from the platform of the convention. They were given the opportunity of having their views presented on the afternoon when all national women's organizations presented their programs in six-minute speeches; or, if they preferred, as a minority report from the Advisory Council of the Woman's Party through a member of the Council sympathetic to their cause, in which case they could take all of the time they desired. They chose the latter method of presenting their cause to the convention, in order to have more time, and their views were presented in this way, at their request, by Mrs. William Spencer Murray, a member of the Advisory Council of the Woman's Party.
4. Your article states that "a Southern organizer told the one active supporter of the colored women - a white woman and a delegate from New York - that the Woman's Party was pledged not to raise the race issue in the South; that this was the price it paid for ratification."
This statement is incorrect and is based on a misunderstanding of what the Southern organizer said. The Woman's Party was not "pledged" with regard to the race issue or any other issue. The Woman's Party policy has always been to concentrate on its own issue and not take up other issues. The Woman's Party had nothing to do with the race issue and naturally never thought of taking it up in the South or anywhere else.
5. Your article states with regard to the colored women "Their leading members were not allowed to ride in the elevators of the Hotel Washington where the convention was held, until finally they made a stand for their rights."
This statement is incorrect. All members of the convention were, whenever the elevators were in demand for use by hotel patrons, requested by the elevator men to use the short flight of stairs from the lobby to the convention hall in order that the elevator service might not be tied up by the convention. This request was made of me, personally, and I complied with it. This request had nothing to do with discrimination between white women and colored women but was made of all members of the convention during the times of congestion in the hotel elevator service.
6. Your article states "only by the use of tactics bordering on Alice Paul's own for vigor and persistence did their spokesman - the delegate from New York - get a moment to present a resolution in their behalf."
This statement is incorrect. Every possible encouragement was given to this delegate from New York, Mrs. Murray, to give her point of view to the convention, even to the extent of inviting her to present it from the platform in a minority report from the Advisory Council. Her resolution, after having failed to receive the recommendation of the resolutions committee, was allowed to be brought up from the floor and all advocates of it who were delegates had every facility for speaking to the convention on its behalf.
In addition to these points where the accuracy of the facts is at issue, your article states "The attitude of Alice Paul and her supporters toward these disturbers of the peace - Negro women and birth control advocates alike - was the attitude of all established authorities. "Why do these people harass us?" asked Miss Paul. "Why do they want to spoil our convention?" The answer that never occurred to her, was this: "For the very same reason that made you disturb the peace and harass the authorities in your peculiarly effective and irritating way: because they want to further the cause they believe in."
May I point out to you that the Woman's Party made its protest against the authorities who were responsible for denying suffrage to the women of this country? We did not take our protest against other reform organizations who had no connection with the denial of suffrage to women. We naturally could not understand why, if the negroes wished to protest against denial of the franchise on account of race, they did not protest against the governmental authorities responsible for the denial instead of protesting against the Woman's Party which was in no way responsible for the denial. We could not understand why those interested in removing birth control restrictions imposed by the government did not protest against the authorities responsible for the restrictions instead of against the Woman's Party, which they had nothing to do with the placing or maintaining of the restrictions.
In reply to the general tenor of your article, I should like to point out that there has probably never been a convention where greater liberality was shown to opponents and to advocates of outside interests than at this one. Owing to the reputation of the Woman's Party for efficiency in accomplishing its purpose, it has been besieged by people desiring it to take up various causes. There were approximately fifty different groups insistent that the Woman's Party should decide at this convention to make their particular cause its own. Among the causes which strove to capture the Woman's Party were: proportional representation, suffrage for the District of Columbia, Saturday half holidays for government employees, direct primaries, initiative and referendum, dress reform, release of political prisoners, various educational programs, community center work, maintaining the purity of the white race by preventing efforts at social equality on the part of other races, the advancement of the Negro, recognition by the United States of the Irish Republic, opposition to imperialism, disarmament, increase of armaments, and birth control. The leaders of the Woman's Party, in endeavoring to extend facilities to these groups for the presentation of their ideas to the convention, even had the sponsors of these various ideas made delegates and given full rights on the floor of the convention. At the request of Miss Paul the New York branch, for instance, made the head of the Voluntary Parenthood League a delegate to the convention with the right to advocate her cause from the floor although she had been a bitter opponent of the Woman's Party during its fight for suffrage. In the same way, at the request of Miss Paul various members of the pacifist organizations, who had strongly opposed the Woman's Party when it was waging its fight for suffrage were made delegates by the Woman's Party branches in the states to which they belonged, in order that they might have an opportunity to advocate their cause from the floor.
Not only was there probably never a convention in which such an opportunity was given to opponents and outsiders to present their views to the convention, but probably never was there a convention in which there was such unanimity of feeling. This unanimity made wire pulling and the use of a machine, to which your article refers, superfluous even if anyone had thought of using these methods. The women who had worked together for the political freedom of their sex through seven years during which time they had together suffered every kind of abuse, even to imprisonment, were knit together by close bond of solidarity in their common interest in the welfare of women and were determined to keep flying the flag of devotion to the cause of women as long as women were still in so many ways, unfree. They were determined that the organization should not be transformed into one for some other object, no matter how laudible that other object might be.
The outsiders who had taken no part in the previous life of the Woman's Party, and whose only interest in the convention was to obtain the support of the organization for their various causes, were disappointed with the convention because it had not adopted their particular cause. However, most of the members of the Woman's Party left the convention happy in the feeling that it had once again reaffirmed its determination to stand by the cause of women until women were completely free.
Before closing, may I call your attention to a line in your article which verges on the libelous. In this line you speak of the Woman's Party possessing "readiness to use any trick or pretense that might bring that purpose nearer to fulfillment." Unless you can prove the truth of this accusation, it should be withdrawn.
May I inquire, finally, what service you feel you are doing by attacking an organization which unselfishly for seven years worked for a cause in which you profess to believe? Would it not be more useful to attack the opponents instead of the supporters of the movements which you assume to desire to aid?
May I suggest also that if you wish to retain any reputation for reliability you will immediately correct the misstatements of fact in this article. Otherwise the people who have first hand knowledge of the inaccuracies in the article can never again feel confidence in your paper.
Very sincerely yours,
(Mrs. Lawrence Lewis)[A]
A. Mrs. Lawrence
Lewis, the treasurer of the National Woman's Party, is the same Dora Lewis,
recipient of the letter reprinted as document 14 above.
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