By Alexa Ingrassia, undergraduate, SUNY Oneonta
Margaret M. Fotheringham, born in New York in 1890, was a teacher “of Domestic Science and Dietetics” in Buffalo and an active suffragist. On August 23, 1917, she and five other women appeared at the White House bearing banners quoting President Woodrow Wilson. Within ten minutes of their protest, all the women were arrested for obstructing traffic. When they pleaded their case the judge pointed out that the president was “not the one to petition for justice.” The women were fined twenty-five dollars or thirty days at Occoquan Workhouse. Every woman refused to pay the fine.
On September 4, 1917, during a parade for recently drafted soldiers of World War I, Margaret was again arrested, along with twelve other women. In a fashion similar to their earlier picketing at the White House, the women all sported controversial banners. This time the banners stated, “Mr. President, how long must women be denied a voice in the government that is conscripting their sons?” The punishment was more severe, and the women served sixty days at Occoquan Workhouse. During her confinement, Fotheringham and ten other women, claiming to be political prisoners, refused to work.
As a result of her bold activism for women’s voting rights, Fotheringham lost her job in the Buffalo public schools. Rather than appearing before the school board to answer its charges, she accepted a position with the Red Cross. The Central Federated Labor Union of New York criticized the Buffalo school authorities for suspending Fotheringham, pointing out that the suspension violated the Clayton Act, whereby non-violent picketing was legal. Fotheringham died in New York in 1949.
“Suff School Teacher May Lose Position,” Washington Herald, September 19, 1917; “Pickets to be Punished,” Washington Post, October 20, 1917; “Uphold Buffalo Woman,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 24, 1917; “Suffragists Win in District Court,” Durham Morning Herald, March 5, 1918; Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921), pp. 236-37; accessible in Women and Social Movements in the United States 1600-2000, at Link; see also "Workhouse Prison Museum | A Prison Built by Its Prisoners," Workhouse Prison Museum website at http://workhousemuseums.org/ (accessed April 14, 2016).