LMA note: Many thanks to Robert Horvat for reminding us of this anniversary. Robert is a gifted researcher who makes learning history an art form. Check out his excellent blog, If It Happened Yesterday, It’s History.
Good day everyone, LMA here transforming into Debbie Downer as I remind, and in many cases ‘inform,’ you about a brutal attack on women that took place in the late hours of Nov. 14 and early hours of Nov. 15, 1917 right here on American soil.
We are not talking about a World War I battle, which the U.S. entered seven months prior, but a terrorizing onslaught that occurred in a makeshift women’s prison in Virginia. The event is true, yet so unbelievable, it has its own Snopes entry.
It is “The Night of Terror,” a horrific attack that left 33 women near death simply for lawfully lobbying for their right to vote.
Somehow ‘The Night of Terror’ never made it into My Pub’s school history books. Even the footnote must have landed on the cutting room floor along with most other events involving women’s history.
Here is a synopsis of ‘The Night of Terror:’
The National Women’s Party, headed by Suffragette Alice Paul, was holding silent sentinels in shifts, day and night minus Sundays, outside President Woodrow Wilson’s White House since January 1917.
Their signs and banners read, for example: “Mr. President, what will you do for women suffrage?” and “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Wilson and staff mainly ignored these silent vigils, until April, when police arrested two women for obstructing traffic with their banner. The women spent three days at Occoquan prison. Once released – and pardoned by Wilson – they returned to the vigil and obstructing traffic.
More arrests were made and a special Congressional committee ordered longer jail sentences for returning suffragettes.
Alice Paul was arrested on Oct. 20, and nearly starved in solitary confinement. She launched a hunger strike and other imprisoned suffragettes followed. This led to Force Feeding by prison officials. Force feeding is the art of strapping someone down and inserting a liquid food form into their stomach via a funnel and hose from the mouth.
Strangely, force feeding may have been a better alternative to the prison meal plan. The prisoners shared drinking water from the same pail and were served spoiled, worm-infested food.
On Nov. 14, Prison Superintendent W.H. Whittaker was maybe frustrated or impatient, but he was definitely crazy (my opinion). He ordered more than 40 male prison guards to beat the women, a measure that would make them realize Votes for Women were a fantasy.
The following is taken from affidavits and news accounts from the New York Times of November 1917.
Guards armed with clubs pummelled women over their heads, torsos and limbs. One woman was stripped then manacled to her cell bars while repeatedly clubbed. She remained chained and bleeding overnight. Another woman was thrown into a cement cell so forcefully, her head cracked open on a metal bed frame. A suffragette who witnessed this suffered a heart attack. Another woman was stabbed between the eyes. Others were choked and had their limbs twisted and pounded.
It’s OK to squirm while learning about aptly named ‘Night of Terror.’ All suffragettes survived (We are survivors, aren’t we!) and were released around Thanksgiving. In January, Wilson announced his support for Votes for Women. In March, the Supreme Court declared the arrests and treatment of prisoners as unconstitutional. The National Women’s Party continued its vigil until June 1919. The right for Women to Vote was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.
It blows my mind to think about how horribly people suffered for the simple gesture of a woman casting a ballot to shape her government. While My Pub and I appreciate everything these brave protestors did on behalf of women’s rights, we are appalled at what they had to endure for something as simple as equality.
Thanks for checking in today, xo, LMA