Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Ruby Koenig, 1886-1968
by Amelia Koford, Texas Lutheran University
Ruby E. Koenig was a National Woman's Party suffragist who took part in several demonstrations at Lafayette Square in 1918. Koenig was born around 1886 to Swedish parents. She married George Louis Koenig sometime before 1915. In 1915, she attended a reception for Sara Bard Field, an envoy elected by the Woman Voters' Convention in San Francisco to travel across the country campaigning for suffrage. In 1916, Koenig appeared in the masthead of The Suffragist as part of the Circulation Committee. At the time, The Suffragist was a publication of the Congressional Union, which would soon become the National Woman's Party.
The National Woman's Party planned a series of demonstrations at the Lafayette Monument in August 1918 as a response to the lack of Senate action on the federal suffrage amendment. The first demonstration fell on August 6, which would have been suffrage martyr Inez Milholland's birthday, and one of the banners bore her last public words, "How long must women wait for liberty?" Other banners listed the demands of the protesters: "We protest against the continued disfranchisement of American women, for which the President of the United States is responsible. We condemn the President and his party for allowing the obstruction of suffrage in the Senate. We deplore the weakness of President Wilson in permitting the Senate to line itself with the Prussian Reichstag by denying democracy to the people. We demand that the President and his party secure the passage of the suffrage amendment through the Senate in the present session." Eight women planned to speak, including Elsie Hill of Connecticut and Lucy Burns of New York.
Police began arresting suffragists almost immediately after the August 6 demonstration began. Koenig was one of forty-eight women arrested, along with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. The Suffragist reported, "A Connecticut woman, Mrs. George L. Koenig, of Hartford, was ordered by a policeman not to mount the step at the foot of the statue. When she persisted, he took her forearm in both hands and twisted it so violently that the arm was severely sprained."
At the next demonstration, on August 12, Koenig was one of thirty-eight suffragists who were arrested, brought to police headquarters, and released. Thirty-six of the thirty-eight returned immediately to the statue and were arrested again. In the article "Strong-Arm Methods No Remedy," The Suffragist lists several injuries resulting from police seizing, twisting, and throwing women, including: "Mrs. George Koenig, Hartford, Conn., whose arm was so badly sprained by the policeman who arrested her last Tuesday that she has been forced to carry it in a sling, was again so roughly handled that the pain made her violently ill."
The court case was postponed several times. Eventually, twenty-six suffragists were sentenced to from 10 to 15 days in jail on the charges of holding a meeting with no permit and climbing a statue. They refused to pay the fine to be exempted from the sentence. The jail, an abandoned workhouse, was cold and damp, and the women were not given the blankets and hot water bottles they requested. The air was stifling and bad-smelling, and the water was likely unsanitary. With the exception of two older women, all the suffragists participated in a hunger strike. They requested in vain to be given the rights of political prisoners.
The prison doctor, Dr. Gannon, refused to treat Ruby Koenig's injured arm unless she would obey his orders. She refused, since obeying his orders would have included stopping the hunger strike. In the Suffragist article, "Notes from the Prisoners," Lucy Burns wrote, "[Dr. Gannon] told Mrs. Koenig this morning she must lie in her cell and eat or he would not treat her at all. She said she had tried lying in her cell yesterday and become violently nauseated. He said, ‘Too bad.'" Elsie Hill wrote, "For four days we have asked for Dr. Swope for Mrs. Koenig's arm, and since Saturday for Helena [Hill Weed]'s rheumatism...Mrs. Koenig might be permanently crippled in that elbow by the lack of what only good osteopathic treatment can give." The tainted water soon made all the suffrage prisoners violently ill.
The suffragists did not serve out their full sentences; the judge ordered their release after five days.
Koenig returned home to Hartford. She traveled again to Washington, DC in December 1918 to participate in another National Woman's Party demonstration. This time, papers with the words of President Wilson were burned at the base of the Lafayette Monument. At this December 16 demonstration, in contrast to later ‘watchfire demonstrations,' no arrests were made; in fact, police shielded the suffragists from a small group of rowdy onlookers.
After the events of 1918, Ruby and George continued to live in Hartford, Connecticut, and later in Queens, New York. George had a career as a musician and music arranger, including as music director at S.Z. Poli's Palace Theatre. Ruby died in Guilford, Connecticut on June 22, 1968 at the age of 82. George died in October 1970.
There is a photo of Ruby Koenig in the NWP archives online:
Heffelfinger, Kate. "The Demonstration." The Suffragist 6, no. 49 (1918.): 5.
"Last Plans for the Protest Demonstration, August 6." The Suffragist 6, no. 29 (1918): 5-6.
"Local Women in Suffrage Parade in Washington." The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer. December 20, 1918.
"Notes from the Prisoners." The Suffragist 6, no. 31 (1918): 8.
"Strong-Arm Methods No Remedy." The Suffragist 6, no. 34 (1918): 9.
"Women's Protest Against Disfranchisement Broken Up by Federal Police." The Suffragist 6, no. 30 (1918): 5-6.
"The Women Voters' Envoy in the Eastern States." The Suffragist 3, no. 48 (1915) 3.
World War I draft registration card for George Koenig. FamilySearch. familysearch.org.