By Thomas Dublin and
Hannah Dudley Shotwell, Honors Faculty Scholar, Cormier Honors College, Longwood University
Rose Winslow (born Ruza Wenclawska) was born in Poland in 1889 and immigrated to western Pennsylvania with her family at the age of five. When Winslow was eleven, she began working in a silk mill. The 1900 census of Plymouth, PA recorded her father as a miner, a brother as a slate picker, and Rose as a stocking knitter. Later she worked as a shop girl in Philadelphia, but at age nineteen, she developed tuberculosis and could no longer work in a factory setting. She took two years off work, put herself through night school, and began working as a labor organizer. She conducted factory inspections and organized unions in New York City with the National Consumers' League and the National Women's Trade Union League.
Winslow's first documented suffrage activism came in January 1913 as she came to Washington, D.C. to help organize the mass suffrage parade on the eve of Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in March. A year later, Winslow spoke on behalf of women wage-earners as part of a delegation of working women that marched to the White House and met with President Wilson.
That same year, the Congressional Union for Woman's Suffrage launched a campaign urging women in the nine states that had women's suffrage to vote against the Democratic Party because they had blocked a federal Suffrage Amendment. Winslow, along with Lucy Burns, organized one of nine headquarters in San Francisco. She participated in a similar role in Wyoming in 1916. During this time, she also wrote a poem, "The 'New Freedom' for Women," that was published in The Suffragist. There she compared Wilson unfavorably to Abraham Lincoln, who sacrificed his life to give freedom to slaves. Wilson, in contrast, told suffrage advocates, "You can afford to wait."
In October 1917, police arrested Winslow, Alice Paul, and several other White House picketers for "obstructing traffic." (In the 2004 film version of these events, Iron Jawed Angels, Vera Fermiga portrays Winslow.) Winslow was sentenced to seven months in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. Paul and Winslow demanded that the prison treat the protesters as political prisoners; this status would have afforded them separate housing and relief from the prison work detail, but most importantly, the public would understand that they were in jail not for committing a crime but for opposing government policy. When the prison warden refused these demands, Paul and Winslow went on a hunger strike. Suffering gravely from the force-feedings that followed, Winslow smuggled notes out to her friends and husband, which helped suffragists give details about the plight of the prisoners to the public. Subsequently, fifteen other women went on hunger strike. Eventually all of the women were released and courts ruled that the arrests had been improper. Following more than two years of White House picketing, Congress approved the 19th Amendment and sent it out to the states for ratification, which followed in August 1920.
Rose Winslow married shortly after she was released from prison, and the 1920 census listed her and her husband Philip Lyons living in Greenwich Village. Rose listed herself as an actress and performed in several plays in New York City and Provincetown, including a bit part in Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms," on Broadway in 1924. She performed under her maiden name, Ruza Wenclawska.
The date of Rose Lyons's death remains uncertain. Guy Pène du Bois wrote of her as "the late Rose Winslow" in his 1940 memoir, Artists Say the Silliest Things. On the other hand, the Library of Congress website, "Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party," indicates that she died in 1977. Her engagement in political activism appears to have ended with her White House picketing and subsequent jail time.
Katherine Adams and Michael Keene, Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007).
Maxine Seller, Immigrant Women (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994).
Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 187-91, 370.
Rose Winslow, "Prison Notes, Smuggled to Friends from the District Jail, 1917," in Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946, ed. Mary Chapman and Angela Mills (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 282.
J. D. Zahniser and Amelia Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
"Rose Winslow," in 1900 Federal manuscript census, Plymouth, Pennsylvania; "Rose Lyons," in 1920 Federal Manuscript Census, Manhattan Assembly District 10.
Library of Congress website, bio sketch and photograph for Rose Winslow in "Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party," accessible at https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/selected-leaders-of-the-national-womans-party/officers-and-national-organizers/
Numerous articles in The Suffragist, 1914-1918, including Rose Winslow, "The Woman Wage Earner," The Suffragist, 2:49 (1914), 5-6.
Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (N.P.: American Artists Group—Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1940).
Passport application for Rose Winslow, in "United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925" from the FamilySearch website. Original application, Dec. 6, 1921, with a subsequent amendment, May 17, 1922. This is the source for RW's date of birth.