By Rachel Gunter
Graduate student, Texas A&M University
Cora Alice Weeks (aka Cora Week) was an artist and suffragist. She was born in Bergen, Wisconsin in Marathon County in 1863 or 1864, the fifth of eight children. Her parents John (b. 1820) and Cornelia (b. 1827) were both Norwegian immigrants.
Weeks studied art in Boston before moving to New York. She lived in the Bronx and specialized in oil paintings. She was a member of the Art Students League, and she helped organize the Luc Olivier Merson Studio in Paris. Her work was exhibited at the Salon des Beaux Arts in 1895, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design in 1900, and the Paris Salons.
When Alice Paul was sentenced to seven months in prison in 1917, Weeks was one of the National Woman’s Party suffragists who organized a protest demonstration. The suffragists visited Paul on the evening of November 9, 1917 and shouted their plans through her cell window from the courtyard below before the guards ran them off. On November 10, forty-one suffragists organized themselves into five delegations. Weeks and her longtime companion, Emily Dee Butterworth (wife of Henry Butterworth), marched in the first delegation, which was comprised of suffragists from New York. The first delegation approached the White House gates and was arrested, as was each succeeding delegation, until all five delegations had been arrested and charged with “obstructing traffic.”
Weeks was tried, convicted, and given the choice of a fine or a sentence of 30 days in District Jail; like most other NWP protesters, she chose jail. Instead she and Butterworth were sent to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. In response to unjust imprisonment, poor conditions and worm-infested food, suffragists refused to work or wear prison garb. Weeks and Butterworth also went on a hunger strike. On November 14, 1917, they both endured the Night of Terror. Weeks later recalled sitting in a chair when two guards approached her from behind, seized her arms and dragged her backwards out of the room. Mrs. Butterworth was placed in the men’s ward for the night.
NWP attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus asking that the women be brought before the court and arguing that the suffragists should only be housed in the DC Jail and not the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. On November 23, 1917, the women appeared in Judge Mullowney’s courtroom, which was packed with reporters. The women showed signs of neglect and abuse as well as the effects of the hunger strike. Butterworth, Weeks and Eleanor Brannan were in such poor condition they were released immediately. The judge feared that further incarceration would cause their deaths. The New York Times reported their ill health and described Weeks being denied the “so-called privilege of a glass of water” during her imprisonment.
Weeks participated in the Watchfires of Freedom Demonstration, in which suffragists burned President Wilson in effigy as well as the text of one of his speeches. Weeks was arrested on February 9, 1919 and charged with illegally setting fires. Again choosing jail, she served her sentence in a DC jail that was re-opened to house suffragists after they were removed from the Occoquan Workhouse.
In 1919, the NWP sent Weeks and other suffragists who had been imprisoned on a “Prison Special” speaking tour. The women wore duplicates of their prison garb and used descriptions of their incarceration to gain sympathy for woman suffrage.
Weeks and Butterworth remained close and even lived together in New York in the 1930s. Weeks died in 1951.
“Move Militants from Workhouse,” New York Times, November 25, 1917.
“Suffragists Burn Wilson in Effigy,” New York Times, February 10, 1919.
Photo of Cora Weeks: “Some of the picket line of Nov. 10, 1917” in Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000296/
Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene, Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 209.
Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party (Fairfax, Virginia: Denlinger’s, 1977).
Peter H. Falk and Audrey M. Lewis, Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America, Volume III (Sound View Press, 1985).
Lois Marie Fink, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 403.
Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920).