restricted access 7. Picketing Wilson
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7. Picketing Wilson At the end of 1916, Paul felt that new techniques would be necessary to make a further impact on Wilson and his Democratic Party. Suἀragists had lobbied assiduously. They had met with Wilson within the White House and without. They had held parades, mounted tableaux, and traveled cross-country. They had boycotted the Democratic Party and Wilson himself. But after he was reelected and after anger was his only response to the Milholland deputation , Paul and her followers knew they were at a dead end. Though many adherents and a great deal of publicity had been gained at each step along the way, the NWP still had not secured the action needed in the White House and in the Capitol, and no technique they had tried before seemed likely to alter that impasse. In this disheartening period at the end of the year, Paul felt she needed to instigate a new nonviolent technique to rally her troops and keep them from exhaustion and depression. As William R. Miller comments, when participants experience such wrenching traumas, they may be “tired and the conflict will disintegrate into chaos or apathy.” If they don’t have a new positive direction presented to them, “their enthusiasm will wane and the movement will coast to a halt” (150). Paul wanted something new and dramatic , something that would prove that these women would not go away, that they did not have to follow Wilson’s mandates or kowtow to his power, and that they had the strength to persevere and achieve victory. The time had come, Paul believed, for a dramatic public demonstration of women’s plight, one that would secure the press attention that lagged for their meetings and marches after Wilson’s reelection, after the Milholland memorial, and as war filled the headlines. Paul recalled that the logic of that January was based on this question: “We had had speeches, meetings, parades, 158 a l ice paul a nd t he a mer ic a n suf f r age c a mpa ign campaigns, what new method could we devise?” What she decided on was a nonviolent visual rhetoric—using women’s bodies day after day to literally stand up to the president and for the cause. She decided to picket the White House, the first time a citizen group had done so. As Maud Younger wrote, these women decided to begin “visualizing to the world the long waiting of women for justice” (“Revelations” Oct., 12). Paul’s turning to this form of nonviolence again reflected her deep awareness of and allegiance to the Quaker tradition of witnessing, of church members investing their own time and their own well-being for change. When Helen Paul wrote to her sister on October 8, 1917, she acknowledged that their religion’s dictates about standing in opposition to evil were at the heart of this eἀort: “All our sympathy and love is with thee—Principle is sure to win—injustice and evil have no power back of them for power belongs to good and the knowledge of this destroys their seeming power.” Instead of arguing or trying to gain further entrance to the White House or Capitol, her members would simply stand on the outside of government, demonstrating through days and months their devotion to this right cause. Because of its possible strong eἀect, Paul believed, this picketing would result in “the saving of many years of women’s energy, when it is so greatly needed” (Stevens, Jailed for Freedom 89). These sentinels, appearing usually in four groups of three, hardly ever more than twelve total, were to aἀect President Wilson, and thus the campaign, more than any mass protests. Even deeper than the power of movement and of speech lies the power of presence, and it was that power Paul came to draw on for this new and potent escalation of the struggle. In an article about this decision, “The Indomitable Picket Line,” Lucy Burns argued that NWP members had to create this continuous symbolic event to keep their momentum: “We can only express ourselves by action.” Convincing Her Advisory Board At a January 1917 meeting of the advisory board, Paul first presented the idea of picketing the White House. Through this new method, as Paul and Burns explained to the assembled group, suἀragists could stay physically in front of the president, the head of the majority party who controlled the amendment’s future. In the seventy...


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Subject Headings

  • Paul, Alice, 1885-1977.
  • Suffragists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Women -- Suffrage -- United States -- History.
  • Women's rights -- United States -- History.
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