By Hannah Dudley Shotwell
Graduate student, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Anna Gvinter was a wage-earning woman of Russian lineage. She worked in the shirtwaist industry and was active in the Waist Makers Union beginning in 1910. Gvinter lived in New York during her early life but later moved to Baltimore, where she became active with the National Woman’s Party (NWP). She identified as a member of the Socialist Party.
Gvinter was imprisoned for “obstructing traffic” while picketing the White House with the NWP in September 1917. While in the Occoquan Workhouse, she wrote a letter and smuggled it out to Socialist Congressman Meyer London, explaining the terrible conditions of the prison. Gvinter wrote that she and the other women were “enslaved” there and described the miserable diet of “soup, cereal with worms, [and] bread.” Gvinter was also a vegetarian and would not eat the little meat offered. She told London that she was “nearly blind from bad nourishment.” When the prison assigned her a work detail scrubbing the floors in the lavatories, Gvinter refused because she was afraid of catching a disease. She said that she feared that if she became ill, she would not be able to work for a living when she left the prison.
Gvinter was one of sixteen suffragists involved in a “riot” in the prison in early October 1917. The women believed that guards were moving suffragist Margaret (Peggy) Johns to a psychopathic ward. Fearing for Johns’s safety, they rushed into the matron’s office and tried to telephone NWP headquarters. The guards enlisted a group of black women prisoners who entered the fray, prevented them from making the call, and beat up the suffragists.
Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist- Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York: Continuum, 1990); Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920); “Suffragists Worsted in Workhouse Battle,” Evening Ledger- Philadelphia, October 4, 1917, available in Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1917-10-04/ed-1/seq-3.pdf.