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140 Sue Shelton White (1887–1943) Lady Warrior Betty Sparks Huehls and Beverly Greene Bond    On February 9, 1919, in front of a crowd of sister suffragists, curious onlookers, newspaper reporters, and Washington policemen, Sue Shelton White burned an effigy of Woodrow Wilson. The policemen, fire extinguishers in hand, rushed forward in an attempt to rescue what they assumed to be a straw dummy of the president. But the effigy White burned was made of paper—a cartoon of Wilson delivering one of his “freedom-for-everybody” speeches with a woman’s head chained to his belt. The effigy had barely turned to ashes before police arrested White and thirty-eight other demonstrators from the National Woman’s Party (nwp). The next day, White and twenty-seven of her associates were sentenced to five days in jail, during which time the militants launched a hunger strike to protest the denial of their right to vote.1 After they were released, the protesters boarded a train, the “Prison Special,” which White nicknamed the “Democracy Limited,” and began a twenty-six-day cross-country speaking tour from South Carolina to California, traveling back to New York City by a northern route. Their tour garnered tremendous publicity , most of it favorable, for the suffrage movement. As White later noted, their purpose was “to get action before the adjournment of the 65th congress.” The Suffrage Amendment had passed the House and needed only one more vote to pass the Senate. However, although they carried the message “from the prison to the people,” the women did not get the needed vote.2 Sue Shelton White was born and reared in Henderson, Tennessee. Her life spanned nearly six decades of American female activism, from the revitalization of the feminist movement and the dramatic struggle for woman suffrage through the growing political involvement of women in the 1920s and 1930s. Sue Shelton White June 1920, Chicago. Left to right: Abby Scott Baker, Florence Taylor Marsh, Sue Shelton White, Elsie Hill, and Betty Gram. Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 142 Betty Sparks Huehls and Beverly Greene Bond White was a court reporter, lawyer, bureaucrat, suffragist, reformer and equal rights advocate, practical idealist, intrepid feminist, and savvy politician. Extensive primary sources reveal that White, orphaned at age fourteen, sought and achieved an excellent education, became a radical suffragist and a New Deal liberal, and simultaneously championed causes that ran the gamut from equal rights for women to the peace movement. During the 1920 battle for woman suffrage White maneuvered behind the scenes to get a successful vote in Tennessee . She was one of Tennessee’s first female court reporters, a principal attorney , and, from 1935 to 1943, assistant to the general counsel at the federal Social Security Board. White, a master politician, expanded political patronage for women, especially southern women, during the Roosevelt years. From 1930 to 1932, she successfully crafted the foundation for a women’s faction within the Democratic Party—a faction that contributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s winning political coalition in 1932. But although she recognized the inequities that confronted African Americans during these years, Sue Shelton White was ambivalent on pushing for changes in race relations, perhaps fearing the repercussions activism in this area might bring to other programs she advocated. Having sensed early in her life that blacks were discriminated against and that this discrimination needed to be addressed, she wavered in her efforts to counteract this unequal situation. Jack B. Tate, a fellow Tennessean and general counsel for the federal Social Security Board, described White as a “lady warrior”—a southern gentlewoman and a fighter. White made outstanding and unique contributions to the woman’s movement during the early decades of the twentieth century.3 After eight years of involvement and leadership within the woman suffrage movement, White played a pivotal part in securing Tennessee’s ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in August 1920. Her behind-the-scenes political maneuvering on her home ground during that special session of the General Assembly made it possible for Tennessee to become the thirty-sixth state to ratify, thus making the amendment part of our Constitution.4 Loyal to the Democratic Party, White began preparing for its comeback shortly after the 1928 Republican victory. In early 1930 she parlayed herself into the executive secretary’s position of the Woman’s Division of the Democratic National Committee based in Washington...


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