restricted access 8. Hunger Strikes and Jail
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8. Hunger Strikes and Jail To engage Americans and gain their sympathy, throughout the fall Paul was shifting the focus of her rhetoric, maintaining the picket line and banners but emphasizing the jail terms that shocked newspaper readers across the country. Women continued to picket, continued to be arrested and given sentences; and Paul seemed to be resending the same women to court the longer jail sentences that could demonstrate, to the press and the public, their determination and unity. As these women returned to the picket line, they entered prisons in large numbers. In October, for example, there were seventy women in two jails, some for just a few days on their first sentences, others for thirty or sixty days, and six for the unprecedented sentence of seven months. In total that fall, 168 women served jail sentences and at least 500 were arrested, not for picketing but on charges like “obstructing sidewalk traffic.” To involve the public, Paul exploited every rhetorical possibility inherent in these women being jailed for insisting on their equal rights as citizens. In jail that fall, in two workhouses as well as the district jail, pickets insisted on political prisoner status. They refused to work, they initiated hunger strikes, and they withstood physical assault and internment in psychopathic wards. They used their attorneys, visitors, and even sympathetic guards to get details out to the press. The story became not just the repeated appearance of pickets, but the repeated tortures enacted by a tyrannical government on its unrepresented citizens and the valor of those using nonviolent techniques to fight back. 192 a l ice paul a nd t he a mer ic a n suf f r age c a mpa ign Placing Herself in Jail By the beginning of October, Paul decided that she needed to enter the jail on a long sentence to provide a symbol of American persecution of women. A letter written by her sister Helen from Moorestown on October 8, one that relates their religious dictates to suἀrage, indicates that Alice informed her family of her plans for an extended sentence before she entered jail: “Dear beloved sister—We want to know if there is anything we can do for thee— Mamma wanted me to write thinking perhaps thee might want money for the first bail or something—or might not be well enough to stand the prison life—if we can assist in any way be sure to let us know—in the meantime all our sympathy and love is with thee” In October, Alice courted repeated sentences, knowing they would lead to the longer term—seven months— which she began serving on October 20. In embracing difficult choices, first of a long jail term and then of hunger striking, Paul involved herself not just as an organizer or executive but as a primary participant who was risking Alice Paul leads a protest. Paul and Dora Lewis leading the picket line after police announced mandatory six-month prison sentences for pickets. The banner reads: “The time has come to conquer or submit for there is but one choice—we have made it.” her life for the cause, just as Gandhi would take on his own hunger striking for Indian independence. During her jail term, Paul was constructed as a small and physically weak, ethereal person, yet one with the mental strength to endure torture. In its stark presentation of her arrest, the Suἀragist declared the unthinkable in the article’s first line: “Alice Paul is in jail.” She had been put there, the article continued, by “Administration tools,” with Wilson the ultimate controller of police and courts. Adjectives like “frail,” “little,” and “delicate” stressed her ill health and small size (“Seven Months Sentence”). In articles and speeches in October and November, audiences were repeatedly asked to imagine all she endured. Katharine Rolston Fisher, for example, declared at a dinner for pickets in late October: “What one of us can think of Alice Paul, of Lucy Burns, as prisoners of the National Government, and not feel on her own body, and on her own spirit, the coarse prison clothing, the galling weight of prison rules?” (“Prisoners of Freedom”). Circular letters and letters sent to politicians indicated that prison wardens were endangering Paul’s life (Burns, Letter to Honorable Gwynne Gardiner). Lucy Burns asked several physicians to make statements for the press “condemning the use of forcible feeding when practiced against such a delicate woman as Miss Paul” (Letter...


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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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