Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913–1920
Biography of Hilda Blumberg 1889 - ?
By Tyler Riebl, undergraduate student, SUNY Oneonta
Hilda Blumberg was born 1889 in Russia and then immigrated to the United States. She was educated in New York City and became a teacher there. Later, she joined the National Woman's Party.
On September 22, 1917, Hilda Blumberg, along with Peggy Baird Johns, Margaret Wood Kessler, and Ernestine Hara, joined the National Woman's Party picketing in front of the White House. The purpose of the picketing was to urge the passage of a constitutional amendment for woman suffrage. They were arrested by two policemen who were standing by, waiting for the crowd to grow larger, so they could arrest them for "obstructing traffic." In court the group wanted to be imprisoned as political prisoners but the judge refused to honor this request. The U.S. did not recognize political prisoners.
Blumberg and others were sentenced to thirty days in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia after they refused to pay the $25 dollar fine. Blumberg was the one of the youngest suffragists in the group. She reported in an affidavit that they lived in deplorable conditions in the workhouse and that it was infested with rodents. She stated that many other prisoners were infected with diseases; one woman's nose was gone from syphilis. The food was of poor quality and served in small amounts. Blankets were in short supply as well, which is why they kept the windows closed. The rancid smells were overpowering to the point where they compromised for the loss of body heat by opening up two windows half-way in order to get some relief from the stench.
When she was released from the workhouse, Hilda Blumberg went out to protest again. She was arrested with twenty-four other women for "obstructing traffic" again on November 10, 1917. Arriving at the workhouse on the night of November 14, 1917, the suffragists were brutally beaten and tortured by the prison guards, an event known as the "Night of Terror." This time she was sentenced for twenty days. The conditions in the workhouse were still as poor as they were when Blumberg was previously there. Blumberg, being a teacher, helped draft a letter to the district prison commissioner, complaining about the poor conditions. The letter was signed by as many suffragists as they could get signatures under their circumstances. The suffragists went on a hunger strike.
Between November 27 and 28 all the suffrage pickets were suddenly released. It is not clear what happened to Blumberg in her later years.
"`Bad Air' Now Offends Suff Pickets In Prison," News Journal, October 25, 1917, 5; "Banners Seized From Women: Thirty-One Suffragists Jailed After Rioting at White House," Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1917, 1, 11; "Charge Made on White House," Cincinnati Enquirer, November 13, 1917, 1; "Long Jail Term," Fitchburg Sentinel, October 23, 1917, 8; "Militants' Defense Fails" Washington Post, September 26, 1917, 10; "Orrick Johns' Former Wife, Suffrage Picket, Sent to Jail," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 26, 1917, 11; "Pickets Undaunted By Term in Jail" Washington Herald, November 29, 1917, 4; "Pickets To Be Punished," Washington Post, October 20, 1917, 5; Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Civil Disobedience: An Encyclopedic History of Dissidence in the United States (Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe, 2009), 336, 337; Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (Nabu Press, 2010; originally published, 1920), 178, 355; "Suffragists Break Loose on Picketing Melee; Four Held," Escanaba Morning Press, September 25, 1917, 1; "Suffragettes Work or go to 'Solitary,'" New York Herald, October 20, 1917, 3.