By Julianna Romaniuk and Kara Phillips, undergraduates, University of Maryland
Bertha M. Jackson was believed to be born in 1887 and to have British roots tying her through her parents back to England. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland.
Bertha M. Jackson was a delegate at the 1915 annual meeting of National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Jackson was in attendance at the 13th annual national convention on December 14, 1915, when Dr. Anna Howard Shaw was the president and chaired the event. She was an active picketer for the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1917.
On September 13, 1917, Jackson and six other picketers walked from NWP headquarters to the Bottom Gate of the White House holding two banners reading, “Mr. President what will you do for women’s suffrage?” and “How long must women wait for liberty?” After a marine and a sailor ripped the banners, the suffragists were arrested and taken before Judge Mullowny. Mullowny gave them an option of either paying a five-cent fine or going to jail for 30 days. Mrs. Kendall, one of the picketers arrested with Jackson, said that the suffragists would rather go to jail than pay the fine.
After serving only 3 days of her 30-day sentence, Jackson was released on bond and obtained her release on the promise that she would never picket again. Jackson denied that the pickets faced malnourishment, starvation, and unsanitary conditions while in jail. Jackson blamed the suffragists problems on their own “bad behavior.” Jackson went on to explain that the picketers did “a thousand and one things to annoy the matron, some do not even bear repetition.” Jackson claimed that the food portions in Occoquan were “excellent, well-cooked, and generous” and that they had lots of milk to drink; however the reason why the picketers claimed to find worms in their food was because Lucy Branham would find worms and put them in bottles. Jackson said “conditions at the workhouse are excellent and the suffragists were treated with every consideration during her stay there.” Jackson also recalled an incident when one of her fellow picketers swore at the guards for punishing her for breaking the institutions rules, but this upset the colored prisoners because the picketers were immune to punishment.
Jackson claimed to have confronted the picketers saying that; “you are not against political injustice under which we labor in your frame of mind. You are against law and order and right and decency.” After Jackson said this to the picketers, she said that they attacked her. Jackson also claimed that she was not the only woman released on bond, but that the National Woman’s Party was hiding these other women so that it would protect the cause.
Jackson said when reflecting on her time spent in prison that it was horrible not because of the treatment within Occoquan, but “because of the revelation of the real self of women with whom [she had] been working.” She continued in saying the women acted like “little girls in boarding school.” The picketers, in her view, were active and defiant from the beginning of their jail sentencing.
The National Woman's Party provided no comment on Jackson’s statement, but Philadelphia lawyer Mrs. Lawrence Lewis, brought charges against Superintendent Whittaker, which undercut Jackson’s statement. Jackson claimed, "Mr. Whitaker is a gentleman and is well-known to Baltimoreans. He could not have been more kind and conscientious in carrying out his duty." Because of the harsh criticisms made by Mrs. Jackson, some suffragists felt she may have been sent by NAWSA or the Wilson administration to publicly discredit the picketers.
Little is known about Jackson outside of this summary of her arrest and release. Due to her criticism of the National Woman’s Party, little information is recorded about her participation in the suffrage movement and the NWP. But it is believed that she lived on Linden Ave. in Baltimore with her husband, Mark, a union painter, who wrote in the Baltimore newspaper column, “Painter and Decorator.” He was known to speak boldly and wittingly. She is presumed to have been 43 years-old in 1920.
Quotes from the Baltimore Sun on her time spent in Occoquan
“PICKETS IN OWN ROW,” Baltimore Sun, 30 Sep 1917: 15.
Quotes from the Washington Herald on Jail time; “’Suffs’ Are At Odds Regarding Occoquan,” October 1, 1917, p. 2.
Experience as a picketer: Inez Haynes Gilmore, The Story of the Woman’s Party, p. 242.
Jackson’s time spent as a Maryland Delegate for NAWSA:
“NEW SUFFRAGIST HOST: National Association Arrives as Rival Delegates Depart.,” Washington Post, 13 Dec 1915: 3
Information on her Family Background and marriage: Heritage Quest website