By Wendy Rouse
San Jose State University
Bessie Hamilton was born in Boston, Massachusetts around 1878 to Edgar Parker Hamilton and Sarah Kiney. On December 11, 1901, Bessie married Richard Demetrie Papandre in Marin County, California. Richard Papandre had immigrated to the United States from England in 1894 and was a prominent dentist in Oakland, California. The couple lived on 15th Street in Oakland and were well-known in local circles. They were divorced in July 1918, the newspaper account noting that Bessie had left her husband two years earlier and was living in Washington, D.C.
Bessie became involved with the National Woman’s Party shortly after hearing a speech presented by Sara Bard Field. Bessie began actively participating in NWP events in December 1916 when she accompanied several National Woman’s Party members, including Lucy Burns and Mabel Vernon, as they interrupted President Wilson’s address to the Congress by unfurling a banner over the balcony that read “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” The banner was immediately seized by authorities. Bessie gained further fame in the local press when she and Hazel Hunkins from Montana brazenly returned to the capitol a few days later to demand the return of the banner. Shortly after the famous event, Bessie wrote an article about the experience for the Oakland Tribune.
Bessie remained in Washington throughout the winter, lobbying and organizing for the National Woman’s Party. She was among the first silent sentinels to march from the NWP headquarters to the White House on January 10, 1917. This event signaled the beginning of a continuous vigil at the gates of the White House demanding the passage of a federal suffrage amendment. Bessie continued to participate in the picketing over the next several months. She also served as the National Woman’s Party Supply Chairman keeping track of supplies sold and purchased by the organization.
Sometime around 1918 or 1919, Bessie divorced Richard Demetrie Papandre. On July 29, 1920, she married William Kirk Heffelfinger, brother of fellow NWP silent sentinel Kate Heffelfinger. William Kirk Heffelfinger had suffered substantial injuries fighting in France during World War I and died of complications from his injuries on December 5, 1921. Bessie’s life history after that point remains unknown.
Bessie’s role in the banner protest during Wilson’s address to Congress is discussed in Inez Haynes Irwin’s The Story of the Woman's Party, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921). Bessie wrote about the incident herself in “Big Drive” Details are Made Public,” Oakland Tribune, December 11, 1916, 9. Bessie’s role as one of the original twelve silent sentinels was recorded in “Pioneer Sentinels Suffrage Heroines,” Washington Times, January 12, 1917, 10.
The first suffrage picket line leaving the National Woman's Party headquarters to march to the White House gates on January 10, 1917. From left to right: Miss Berta Crone, of San Francisco, Miss Vivian Pierce, of San Diego, Miss Mildred Gilbert of San Francisco, Miss Maude Jamieson, of Norfolk, Va., Miss Joy Young of New York, Miss Mary Dowell of Philadelphia, Miss Gertrude Crocker of Chicago, Mrs. Bessie Papandre, of San Francisco, Miss Elizabeth Geary, of Chicago, Miss Frances Pepper of Washington, D.C., Miss Elizabeth Smith of Washington, D.C., and Miss Pauline Floyd of El Dorado, Ark.
Location: National Woman's Party Records, Group I, Container I:160, Folder: Pickets, 1917. http://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000216/