Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Female Suffragettes, the President and Pardons

On July 17, 1917, sixteen “militant suffragists” (Mary Hall Ingham, Bettie Graves Regneau, Julia Hurlbut, Mrs. John Rogers, Mrs. John Winters Brannan, Mrs. Florence Bayard Hilles, Allison Hopkins, Minnie Abbott, Beatrice Kinkead, Anne Martin, Mrs. Robert Walker, Jeanet Frothingham, Mrs. Gilson Gardner, Louise C. Mayo, Eleanor Calnan, Dorris Stevens) were sentenced to pay twenty-five dollar fines each or serve sixty days in the Occoquan “workhouse.” Three days earlier, they had engaged in “unlawful assembly” outside the White House.

Such protests were not new but, previously, those found in violation of the law had been sentenced with much less severity. For example, between June 22 and June 26, twenty-seven protesters had also been arrested, but were released without any penalty whatsoever. Those who were arrested on 26th were held overnight. Six women arrested on June 27 were fined twenty-five dollars and sentenced to three days of confinement upon their refusal to pay. Other similar arrests followed the three-day pattern.

The New York Times covered the trial of the sixteen suffragettes and their sentencing with vigor. Author Christine A. Lunardini notes the courtroom was “filled with women, many of whom had never been in a courtroom, much less seen a trial.” The judge threatened to clear the courtroom numerous times because of the outbursts (cheers, applause, etc.) of sympathizers. Two of the defendants, Doris Stevens and Anne Martin, attempted to act as attorneys, but the group generally considered the trial a “farce.” Stevens summarized her defense as follows:
We know and I believe the Court knows also that President Wilson and his Administration are responsible for our being here today … What have these distinguished and liberty-loving women done to bring them before this court of justice? Why, your Honor, their crime is that they peaceably petitioned the President of the United States for liberty … We say to you, this outrageous policy of stupid and brutal punishment will not dampen the ardor of the women. Where sixteen of us face your judgment today, there will be sixty tomorrow, so great will be the indignation of our colleagues in this fight. 
Anticipating the outcome of Stevens’ approach, the defiant suffragettes brought bags carefully packed for a trip to jail. But she later wrote that “all in the courtroom were shocked” when District Court Judge Mullowney concluded a sixty-day workhouse sentence would be appropriate. Lunardini also observes courtroom spectators were “stunned.” Perhaps the bags were not packed all that carefully. The Times observed that the sixteen suffragettes were “marched” to cars “in company with Negro women prisoners.” (Stevens described her company as “drunks and disorderlies, prostitutes and thieves.”) The whole bunch was then sent “down the river.”


That afternoon, a Washington correspondent of the Scripp’s newspapers (whose wife was among those arrested) asked for an appointment with President Wilson. The correspondent’s memo to the President suggested that there would certainly be “bad effects” once “publicity goes to the country” that “women of prominence and refinement” were sent to the workhouse. Indeed, the New York Times dramatically reported on the workhouse’s “failure” to “draw the color line” and housing of “women of wealth” and “refinement” with drunkards and the disorderly. The suffragettes were also said to have been “forced” to wash their faces and eat with undesirables.

On July 18, the husband of another one of the women met with the President for forty-five minutes. John Appleton Haven Hopkins had actually coordinated Wilson’s campaign for re-election in New Jersey and he and his wife, Allison, had recently been dinner guests at the White House. Hopkins angrily asked the President, “How would you like to have your wife sleep in a dirty workhouse next to prostitutes?” After the meeting, Hopkins issued a statement which indicated Wilson was shocked to hear of the incarceration of the suffragettes and was even considering a change in his general position on female suffrage.

A somewhat similar reaction was later described by Louis Brownlow, the District commissioner in charge of the police. According to Brownlow, Wilson was “highly indignant” upon hearing of the arrests. But Brownlow explains the President’s indignation as stemming from a personal belief that the women’s “desire for arrest and martyrdom” ought never to have been “indulged.”

Regardless, Wilson granted pardons to the sixteen suffragettes on July 19. Of course, they had not asked for them, much less applied for them. Indeed, the women had explicitly announced, earlier, that they would not accept pardons if the President were to, hypothetically, offer them. That was the whole purpose behind packing the bags.

According to reports, Wilson’s pardons were initially resisted by the protestors, but accepted after persuasive arguments presented to them by lawyer Dudley Field Malone. Malone, who teamed with Clarence Darrow in the infamous “Scopes monkey trial,” told the suffragettes that “as a matter of law” no one could “compel” them to accept the pardons. But, “as a matter of fact,” the pardons would have to be accepted in the sense that the Attorney General would certainly have them “put out of the institution bag and baggage.”

History books would, of course, go on to praise the women who exercised their First Amendment freedom of speech in order to argue for the right to vote. But not everyone was entirely pleased with the behavior of the suffragettes, or the President’s act of clemency.

A New York Times Editorial landed quite hard on the “high-bred women” who disturbed the peace “in pursuit of their petty whim” while the nation was at war. The Times noted President Wilson was “more than lenient” with the women “of the extreme and meager suffrage heft” whose actions were “deplorable.” The protestors were “misguided extremists” who lacked “wisdom” but did not mind “a little sedition.” Indeed, they were said to “gaily defy the law” while posing as “martyrs.” The Times held little back, labeling the women “insignificant” and “disgusting,” and comparing them to the “vulgar people” one meets in “quest of excitement and martyrdom.”

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage wrote a letter to President Wilson which was published in its entirety in the Times. Association President, Alice Hay Wadsworth called the pardons an act of clemency, but “not of justice.” Wadsworth argued the pardons were evidence of the President’s “tolerance and magnanimity” and his “appreciation not so much of woman’s rights as of her duty.” She accused the sixteen protestors of a “transparent mental dishonesty” that was almost “inconceivable in persons of normal intelligence.” The letter ended with rhetorical flair:
They who prattle of ‘democracy’ and strive to force the will of the few upon the vast majority; they who shout of patriotism and defame the good name of their country in the hearing of other nations; they who prate of equal rights, but who will not observe them under law – Mr. President, are these to be trusted with the solemn responsibility of suffrage? 
On July 20, pardoned suffragette Allison Low Turnbull Hopkins wrote a personal letter to the President. She noted (and complained about the fact that) the President’s pardon was “accompanied by no explanation” and concluded there were two possible meanings for this action. She had violated no law or the pardon was extended to save the “embarrassment of an acute and distressing political situation.” Either way, Hopkins argued the pardon had deprived her of her right to appeal her false conviction. So, she informed Wilson that he should expect to see her featured in protest in front of the White House soon.

Late that afternoon, Hopkins was indeed back in front of the White House with a sign that read: “We ask not a pardon for ourselves, but justice for all American women.” A crowd soon gathered and the New York World reported that the President “doffed his hat and smiled” while driving by in an automobile.

On January 9, 1918, Wilson announced his support for a Constitutional Amendment to allow women the right to vote. But, the following day members of his party split almost evenly in their votes, 104 for, and 102 against the Amendment. Republicans in the chamber, however, overwhelmingly supported female suffrage (165 in favor and 33 against) and the required two-thirds majority was achieved a single vote. The following October, 22 Democrats and 12 Republicans in the United States Senate opposed the Suffrage Amendment. As a result, it failed by two votes. Finally, on the 4th of June, 1919, a vote of 66 to 30 sent the Amendment to the States for ratification.

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