On Account of Sex
"The fight must not cease; you must see that it does not stop."
-- Susan B. Anthony
copyright Landau Entertainment, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
On Account of Sex is the story of a conflict between two giants of American history -- one famous, the other forgotten. His name is Woodrow Wilson. Her name is Alice Paul.
Their conflict created a revolution in American life that began with women demanding the right to vote and still resounds, unresolved, in the battle for equal rights around the world.
In 1913, having taken Susan B. Anthony’s words to heart, Alice Paul is in Washington, D.C., on a mission to win a solitary thing: the vote for all American women through an amendment to the United States Constitution.
Woodrow Wilson is about to become a controversial President. Publicly, he is stern, impassive and absolutely tyrannical in his use of executive power. Privately, he is warm and funny, and utterly dependent upon his wife and three daughters. Wilson, though proud to be called a Champion of Democracy, can’t figure out why women would even want to vote. The whole notion is antithetical to his worldview.
From Alice Paul’s point of view, to be disenfranchised in a Democracy is the consummate Injustice. Molded by the Quaker faith as she was, Righteousness and Injustice are as real to her as Jesus and the Devil. Alice Paul can no more give in to Injustice than she could give in to the Devil.
This delicate and dark-eyed 27-year old galvanizes an army of gentle ladies, turning them from housewives into soldiers. Armed with faith, determination, and the knowledge that they have right on their side, these amazing women, young and old, pursue Justice with all their might. The result: they are systematically brutalized and tormented, imprisoned and force-fed.
Why did they endure such punishment? For something we take for granted today, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any other State on account of sex."
Our story begins in a retirement community, in the late 1970’s. An 80-year old resident, Doris Stevens, sits on the porch basking in the morning sun. Her eyes are closed and she listens to her granddaughter, Jess, read The New York Times. When young Jess reaches the obits, she wiggles her nose in mock disgust, but reads on, A to Z. When she gets to the "P’s" and names Alice Paul of Pennsylvania, Doris bolts up and dissolves into emotion. Jess, alarmed, wants to know what is wrong. Doris pulls herself together and begins to explain.
"Oh, Jess, you wouldn’t have liked her -- not in the beginning, anyway. I didn’t like Alice Paul one bit the first time I met her. She scared me to death. She looked meek, but it was a disguise. She was the most powerful person, man or woman, I ever met. She was a force of nature who always got what she wanted out of people, including me."
Doris takes us back. "I remember that first day in Washington, DC, as if it were yesterday. We’d had a long train ride from Nebraska. I’d come with some girls from my college. We were tired and ecstatic all at the same time. Miss Paul and her Congressional Union group set up an office on F Street and we were there early. Oh, you couldn’t miss it. Even at eight o’clock in the morning there was a riot of color outside and a beehive of activity inside.
"The very first time I saw Miss Paul, she was in a state. It was only hours before the president-elect’s arrival and preparations for his reception did not appear to be going very well.
"Then suddenly, in what seemed like a perfectly random act, Alice Paul points to me, of all the people in that room, and says, ‘She’ll attend to it. What’s your name?’ Before I could answer, she orders me to have new trappings made for the horses, as theirs had just been ruined, and make sure they are beautiful and here by two o’clock.’
"Well, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I told her I knew nothing about horses or sewing. But she wouldn’t take "no" for an answer. She just turned her back and walked away saying something about Woodrow Wilson speeding toward Washington. She just assumed I’d leap into action, which, of course, I did. Did I mention there were sixty-four horses to dress? Oh my, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do, but I certainly didn’t want to be the one to spoil it the President-elect’s reception."
Our story continues with parallel scenes between a heartwarming farewell for an exuberant President-elect Woodrow Wilson, leaving Princeton and whistle-stopping to Washington DC, and the hectic, last minute preparations Alice Paul and her gleeful army of volunteers are making for his reception.
Spirits soar aboard Wilson’s coach. A butler pours brandy for the men. A faithful and admiring group surrounds the President-elect. His wife Ellen, his three daughters, Margaret, Nellie and Jessie (all in their twenties), his favorite cousin, Helen Bones, his loyal advisor, Colonel House, and his flamboyant Irish Secretary, Joseph Tumulty.
Wilson’s trusted friend, Dudley Field Malone calls for a toast, "Tomorrow Woodrow, we will all have the pleasure of addressing you as Mr. President. May I have the distinction of being the first?" He raises his glass. "Mr. President." Everyone, "Mr. President."
Ellen takes Dudley’s arm and tells him that they wouldn’t be standing on the threshold of this great new era if it hadn’t been for his support. "This is your victory, too, Dudley; and, if I know Woodrow, he has something very special planned for you."
" What would you say to Collector of the Port of New York?" Woodrow asks his good friend "You’ll have to give up that thriving practice of yours, Counselor." Dudley is overwhelmed.
At Headquarters, Alice is lovely in lavender and white. She orchestrates events from the back room, perched atop a desk. Behind her, a beautiful painting of Susan B. Anthony hangs on the wall.
Lucy Burns, a flaming redhead and Vassar graduate, is second-in-command. "You’ve been working for hours, Alice, and you still haven’t taken off your hat. You can’t be that busy."
Alice ignores her and continues to delegate tasks to volunteers, one of whom we follow out the door into the coming and goings that is the Women’s Congressional Union Headquarters.
We see a wide variety of women from all over the country and all walks of life, working together in a sea of lavender, white and gold.
Along President-elect Wilson’s train route, smiling faces and out-stretched hands greet him and confirm his belief the country wants and needs him. Someone in the group pipes up: "Look at all these people. Isn’t it exciting? I can’t wait to get to the Capitol."
Margaret, Wilson’s eldest, suggests to her father that since the people are so behind him now, he can do something for suffrage. But Wilson has his own ideas and chides his daughter, "Women should be worshipped and adored, my dear little girl. Their place is on a pedestal, not in politics." Nellie, the youngest, agrees with her father: "Women in politics are offensive, don’t you think so, Mother? Why would you want to vote?"
Ellen, the perfectly gracious Southern wife, supports her husband.
"Five minutes to Union Station."
The energy is as palpable at Headquarters as it is on the train. Back and forth, we intercut between Alice and the President-elect until his train comes to a hard stop in Pennsylvania Station.
When the President and his entourage disembark, the station is surprisingly empty and quiet.
The silence is broken when small brass military band strikes up a welcome.
Wilson is baffled. "It’s so quiet. Where the devil is everybody? An embarrassed official tells him, "Down on Pennsylvania Avenue, Sir, watching the parade."
Pennsylvania Avenue is ablaze with banners and bands. The procession is a thing of beauty parading down the Avenue to the White House.
Ten thousand people march. Some carry banners. Some wave flags. The largest banner’s message is written in gold letters: We demand an amendment to the constitution of the United States enfranchising women of the country.
The crowd is huge. 500,000 people line the avenue watching, cheering. Many of the spectators are out-of-towners in the Capitol for inauguration festivities. That is why the crowd is so big. Alice Paul couldn’t have planned it better.
Horse-drawn carriages carry the President-elect and his entourage to their new home, The White House.
Pennsylvania Avenue is so crowded now that the marchers have to slow down. A bystander takes exception to a banner’s message. The situation turns ugly fast. One man, disgusted and disgusting, stubs his cigar out on the banner-carrier’s arm. Another fellow trips a marcher: then another, and another. One man spits on an elegantly dressed older woman. This incites a spectator to fisticuffs. Before you know it, it is a free-for-all.
The crowd pushes through the barriers, forming a sold mass. People are being hurt right and left. Someone in the crowd yells, "Go back to the kitchen where you belong."
"Tramps, the lot of ya."
"Leave ‘em alone. They got their rights."
Police, mounted and on foot, do nothing to stop the carnage. The marchers are incensed. They show a proper parade permit issued by Congressional Resolution.
Lucy Burns seeks out the police command post and brandishes their permit. It states that Pennsylvania Avenue must be kept clear for them.
The authorities are indifferent. This is odd since these are the very same men who issued the parade permit in the first place.
En route, Wilson’s two carriages can’t avoid the action. The President eyes Alice. She eyes him back. Wilson’s women are aghast at what they see happening on the Avenue. "Who is that woman?" The President asks. "I believe that’s the leader, sir," the official answers.
A cavalry officer gallops hard to redirect the President’s carriages before they get to close to the mayhem.
At the same time, troops arrive from Fort Meyer to restore order to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Pandemonium reigns at Headquarters. The battered and bruised share war stories. Husbands search frantically for their wives." One berates his injured wife: "You got what you deserved. I told you not to walk with them radicals."
In midst of the hubbub, a nurse cleans a scraped elbow and bleeding knee, a doctor consoles a sobbing old woman even as he puts salve on a nasty burn on her arm, and a loud, disgruntled husband pulls his wounded wife out the door, yelling, "I’m still your husband and you’ll do as I say!"
Alice Paul steps up to a makeshift podium. Newspapermen hurl questions at her. "Don’t you think it was bad form to organize that kind of a parade today?
Alice answers politely. "Absolutely not. It was Mr. Wilson himself who provided us with the impetus. He said that the machinery of political power must be put into the hands of the people. We agree. Millions of women and men will no longer tolerate a government which denies women the right to vote!"
The reporters scribble as Alice continues, "The President has it in his power to bring full Democracy to America. We have only one aim: The immediate passage of a Federal Amendment enfranchising women. What we do in the future depends entirely on what the President does now."
Back in the present, Doris opines dreamily, "I’ve often thought Miss Paul didn’t get her full measure of respect as a mover and a shaker. Hindsight being 20-20, it seems so clear to me now: That day she gave birth to the press conference.
She notices Jess is skeptical. "You don’t believe me? I can see it in your eyes. But it’s true. Alice Paul, long ago, figured out how to shape public opinion by using the press. That day was just the start.
"Later that night, I remember, when things had calmed down, I knocked on her door. When she invited me in, I told her I had come to say goodbye. She was surprised. I explained I had to go home to help my family in Nebraska. She said ‘No.’ Just like that. Well, I was so flustered I didn’t know what to do. I heard she was rude, but this was shocking.
"‘Nothing,’ she told me, ‘is more important than securing the vote for American women, not even your family. You are able, Miss Stevens. We need you here to handle publicity.’ I told her I didn’t know anything about publicity."
"‘Well, find out then,’ she said. I stayed. It was just impossible to say no to that woman. And believe me, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t say no."
At the White House, Wilson is mesmerized by Lincoln’s bedroom. His first childhood memory is Lincoln’s assassination. Ellen walks in and interrupts his reverie to tell him their guests have arrived.
In the Salon the Wilson girls gather around the piano with a few of Washington’s most eligible bachelors.
Margaret asks, "Did you hear what they did to those suffragettes? Some of them are in the hospital. They were attacked by hooligans."
"Not now, Margaret" Ellen admonishes her daughter.
A young reporter, David Lawrence, approaches the President, "Glad you could join us, Lawrence."
Lawrence remarks that the American people wish him well in spite of the incident on Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Oh it does me good to have my thunder stolen once in a while. But enough of this female carrying on. Tell me about the Austrian Ambassador who’s coming to breakfast tomorrow. Is he Bismarck’s man?"
"Right down to the dueling scar, sir." Lawrence replies.
On March 17th, Alice Paul leads a delegation to the White House and asks the President to include suffrage in his message to Congress. She tells him it is the most important issue before the country.
The President can hardly hide his amusement. "I’ve never given suffrage any thought at all, he tells her. "It is my job to see that Congress concentrates on currency and tariff reform."
"But Mr. President," Alice replies, "Do you not understand the Administration has no right to legislate for currency or tariff or any other reforms without getting the consent of women?"
"I assure you ladies I will give the subject careful attention."
Doris tells Jess, "About that time we published the first edition of the Suffragist, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Vanderbilt. It was an entertaining weekly, with a big circulation. It was filled with editorials, reports, sketches, verse, and cartoons. You name it.
"Alice Paul also established a Press Department. My job was to keep the action of the party always in the public eye."
About a year after his election, at dinner one night at the White House, the conversation turns to suffrage. Much to Wilson’s chagrin, all three of his girls have chosen careers. Margaret works hard to be a concert singer. Jessie, dreamer of the family and Phi Beta Kappa, works in a Philadelphia settlement house. Nellie, Wilson’s youngest, is married to Wilson’s much older Secretary of the Treasury and, like her mother, is an artist studying commercial illustration at Philadelphia’s Academy of Fine Arts.
Nellie is a suffrage convert. She has come to see a certain injustice in her own family. Her dear mother plays a significant role in her father’s success but she never gets any credit for it. It doesn’t seem fair to Nell, though she doesn’t know quite how to go up against her father.
The discussion at first is lively and loving, but when things get hot, Wilson short-circuits the debate, performs his nonsense verse and soon has everyone is stitches.
FORMING A WOMAN’S PARTY
Spring, 1914. Alice Paul’s group renames itself, The National Women’s Party. They choose this name after rejecting the strategy, or lack thereof, of the more mainstream women’s suffrage group. Having broken away, they are bona fide radicals and decide to increase pressure on the President by bombarding him with delegations.
Doris tells Jess what happened: "When we were shown into the office we found four chairs lined up, one placed in front, facing the other four. Just like a class with the president as master."
"At the President’s side, I saw your grandfather for the first time. He just listens to Alice lobby the President to support a federal amendment enfranchising American women."
Exasperated, President tells Alice, "I am merely the spokesman of my party, I am not at liberty to urge on them, or Congress, matters of policy.
"But Mr. President," Alice says, "If you cannot speak for us and your party will not, pray who is there to speak for us?"
"You seem well able to speak for yourself, madam."
"I mean, Mr. President, who will speak for us with authority — since you continue to deny us the authority to speak for ourselves?" Abruptly, the President signals an end to the meeting and ushers the delegation out of the door.
Later at dinner, the President comments to Dudley that it had been a splendid day with the exception of that dreadful meeting with those suffrage women. His daughters’ ears perk up.
Wilson goes on, "My principal objection to giving women the ballot is that they are too logical. A woman’s mind leaps instantly from cause to effect without any consideration whatever for what lies between. She thinks too directly to be enfranchised en bloc."
No one knows what to say. After an awkward silence, Wilson in his inimitable way, acts the clown, recites some odd verse and changes the subject.
Ellen, tired and wan, asks everyone’s forgiveness and excuses herself from the table apologizing that she must rise early to tour the slums and inspect housing.
When she leaves the room, everyone worries she’s sacrificing her own health on behalf of the city’s poor.
Meantime, Alice Paul turns Headquarters into a center of political action and, occasionally, gossip. Volunteers are stuffing envelopes while Mabel Vernon reads a magazine aloud. Several stories feature the Wilson girls. A Congressman’s wife complains she’s sick of reading about them. "They are more before the public than any other White House family I have known."
Then Mabel says, "Listen to this, Mrs. Ellen Wilson bought seven new gowns ranging in cost from $200 to $300 each. Can you imagine?"
One lady defends the First Lady. "She’s an artist. She earns her own money selling paintings. Why shouldn’t she buy what she wants?"
Another adds, "Personally, I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves. You know she gives her money to charity."
In the back room at Headquarters, Alice plots strategy with Lucy, Doris and Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont. Lucy says the President’s a hypocrite. "Everybody knows his party does exactly what he tells them to do."
"What matters," Alice answers, "is that he is President of the United States of America and the leader of his party. Only he can change the status quo. I have the utmost respect for the President’s idealism. That’s reason enough to hold him personally responsible for securing the vote for women. We must work harder, that’s all."
The girls in unison, "Harder? That’s not possible!"
"Yes it is." Alice says, "I’m going to give up all personal pleasures until the amendment passes both Houses."
"Ridiculous!" Doris exclaims, "What could you possibly give up?"
"Detective stories. From now on, I’ll read only politics and law until we’ve won. And we will win."
Doris brings us back to the late 1970’s. "I thought it impossible for her to work harder, but she did. She worked day and night. She solicited and contributions poured in. She recruited and volunteers flocked to Headquarters. Alice Paul believed enthusiasm beat experience every time and so she chose young, fresh, inspired and inspiring spirits. She instilled in them, and me, confidence and the feeling that in spite of obstacles, we could conquer the world.
"The problem was she worked so hard, she became frail and ill. We worried about her, but she brushed us off and kept right on working.
"She wouldn’t let anything stand in her way, not even the President. The next time she called on him, she gave him a copy of his own book, The New Freedom, and told him by substituting the word ‘woman’ for the word ‘men’ it would make the best argument for suffrage ever written. She was brilliant when it came to using the President’s words against him."
Then, two tragedies shatter Wilson’s world. Ellen, his beloved wife, exhausted by working for Washington’s poor black slum dwellers, dies.
At her funeral, Congressional Representatives vow to pass the slum housing legislation she worked so hard to implement.
Almost simultaneously, Germany declares war on Russia.
The President is distraught. He spends a lot of time in Ellen’s attic studio looking at paintings.
Dr. Grayson comes in to check his pulse and vitals. He puts his stethoscope to his ears and listens. "Sir, we all share your grief. There are some hard years ahead. You owe it to yourself and the American people to move forward with your great programs."
But Wilson is paralyzed by grief. The nation clamors for war. Dissension tears his Cabinet apart. Migraines become a daily torture.
Wilson has never been able to withstand criticism. Without Ellen, his confidence disintegrates. No one can console him, not even his daughters. Finally, his cousin, Helen Bones (who had served as Ellen Wilson’s social secretary) moves in to help her cousin Woodrow run the White House.
By February of 1915, news of the President’s inactivity fuels the rumor mill. Dr. Grayson conspires with Helen Bones. They must do something to improve the President’s state.
"I believe only a woman can pull him out of his misery." Grayson tells Helen. This gives Helen an idea. "I know the perfect person."
March 1915. Alice leads a delegation to the White House where they find the flag at half-mast. While waiting to see await the President, the ladies speculate the First Lady’s death was the result of tuberculosis she contracted while working the city’s slums.
Lucy points to the irony: The President has just introduced segregation into government lunch rooms and offices where it had never been before while his wife gave her lifeblood to improve the lot of these very same people.
A presidential aide escorts the delegation in to the President’s office. Dudley and Dr. Grayson are there, as is his faithful secretary, Joseph Tumulty.
Alice finds a heartsick and desolate President. Though sympathetic, she won’t be put off. Doris and Dudley exchange looks again while the President insists he can’t urge policy on his party. "The world is on the brink of war," he admonishes, "I am much too busy trying to keep the peace to think about suffrage for women."
"But," Alice says, "there is no matter more important than justice for women." Abruptly, the President ends the meeting, ushering the women out. On her way out the door, Alice tells the President if he doesn’t urge immediate passage of a federal amendment enfranchising women, she will campaign against his reelection.
When the women are out of earshot, Wilson explodes. "Oh! That damnable woman! Won’t she ever give up?" But a smile wipes away the anger when he spots Nellie, Helen and a very attractive woman waiting in the wings.
By their expressions, it is clear they witnessed the exchange. Helen changes the mood with her greeting and introduces him to her good friend, Edith Bolling Galt. "Mrs. Galt can trace her ancestors back nine generation to Pocahontas and John Rolfe, isn’t that fascinating?"
The attraction is immediate. After months of gloom, the President is laughing. Mission accomplished. The White House comes alive again.
Forty-three-year-old Edith Bolling Galt is a strong-willed Southern widow. Five feet nine and fashionably dressed, she radiates confidence. Her exuberant independence is tempered with just the right amount of subservience that Wilson finds essential in women.
This glamorous and exciting woman lifts the President out of his depression into the elation of a great romance. They have two basic things in common: a reverence for their fathers, and for the South.
As Europe plummets into war, Edith becomes Wilson’s obsession. Before long, he consults her on matters of policy. He secretly installs a phone line in her house connecting her to him directly.
In June of 1915 the President vacations in New Hampshire. Edith is there ostensibly as Helen Bones’ guest.
Though Wilson’s daughters are elated over their father’s romance, they worry about the rumors that are spreading. A nation still grieving for the First Lady is shocked and outraged by the President’s behavior.
Wilson’s cabinet speculates on how on the romance will affect the President’s political fortunes. Cabinet members fear Edith’s power should she become First Lady. Only Colonel House, Wilson’s most trusted advisor, and Joseph Tumulty, his secretary, are bold enough to speak the truth. For both, it proves a fatal career mistake.
It strikes those at National Woman’s Party Headquarters that it’s unseemly for someone whose wife is dead only six months to be romancing another woman. Alice tells them, "The President’s personal life is none of our business. It’s his public life with which we must be concerned. We must do something splendid to remind him that nothing is more important than enfranchising half of all Americans. I have an idea…"
Some weeks later on a golf course, a Secret Service Agent stands a discreet distance from the President, who hits a fair drive from the tee. Edith nods approvingly and steps up to the tee. She sends the ball sailing to the green. Wilson whistles in admiration and they set off across the links.
The President complains that Alice Paul and her noisy friends had the nerve to deliver a petition today, a hundred feet long and filled with signatures. "That woman had the unmitigated gall to invite newspaper people to what she billed as my acceptance speech."
"What a nerve!" Edith exclaims. "She is a rude young woman. A pity too. She’d be quite attractive if she wasn’t so impertinent!"
"I’d call her down-right devious," Woodrow goes on, "I’m to speak at the Belasco next week, part of a panel on the subject of Democracy and war. Somehow, that dreadful woman has managed to insinuate herself on the list of speakers."
"Shameless. Perhaps you should send Dudley, on your behalf, to debate the clever Miss Paul."
Amused, Wilson responds, "Capital idea, my dear little girl. Why didn’t I think of that?"
The Belasco Theater. A large crowd is assembled for the debate. Edith and Helen are seated in the audience. Edith is disconcerted when she sees Doris on the dais instead of Alice. When Dudley takes his place and sees Doris, he’s momentarily unnerved.
But ever urbane, Dudley Field Malone argues eloquently for the President’s interpretation of Democracy as it relates to the war in Europe. A question rises about suffrage and democracy. Dudley promises the audience the President will urge Congress to consider suffrage after he is reelected. "The President has assured me that he will do so."
Edith whispers to Helen, "That doesn’t sound like your cousin to me."
When it is Doris’ turn, she urges the audience to vote for Hughes because he favors suffrage now. A stranger in the audience stands up and shouts, "That’s right! The President has eyes for only one women while he ignores the rights of all women." There is a collective gasp. Edith fans herself.
By March 1915, Alice has a new plan of action. She lays it out at an advisory council meeting in New York City. "We need to organize in every State of the Union. We cannot allow the people of the United States to forget the Suffrage fight. Therefore, we are going to form a nation-wide organization that will focus on Congress. Here’s how."
"First, we will hold a convention in each and every State and explain our purpose, our plans, and our ideals. Then, each State convention will choose a representative to send to a culminating convention of women voters in San Francisco. This convention, to be timed to coincide with the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, is in September.
"At that convention we will choose representatives to take a petition to Congress and the President demanding that women be enfranchised.
"We want to make women’s suffrage the dominant political issue from the moment Congress reconvenes. We want Congress to open in the midst of a virtual suffrage cyclone."
On May Day, on behalf of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul sends a May Day basket to the President. It is brimming with purple, white and gold flowers. Concealed in their midst is a message: May the coming year bring you joy and the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
That night, there’s a party aboard the presidential yacht Mayflower. It is a lovely, star-filled night. Romance is in the air. A band plays "Moonlight Bay."
The President draws Edith away from the other guests. The two of them lean against the railing. He appreciates the flower pinned to her dress. "You are the only woman I know who can wear orchids. Usually, the orchid wears the woman."
Edith takes his hand. It would be a magical moment, except Edith senses the President’s uneasiness and asks what’s troubling him. He confesses he can’t seem to keep the affairs of state in their 9 to 5 niche. Those damnable suffragists are driving him to distraction with their ill-advised, theatrical tactics. Dissension rages in the Cabinet over war: should we or shouldn’t we? It is enough to give him a permanent migraine.
Edith asks about the Cabinet. He explains. "The majority threatens to resign if I warn the Germans, as I plan to do, that we are going to take up arms against them."
"My advice to you, dear, is take them up on their suggestion and thank God for the chance. Then you can replace them with people who are loyal and who will respect you and the office."
Wilson laughs. "You’re not only beautiful, my dear, but astute. How did I get so fortunate?"
The magic moment triggers the President to propose. Edith is shocked, mortified. "Oh, dear me, Woodrow it is too early to speak of such things. We mustn’t." Wilson begs her to reconsider.
Colonel House and Dudley overhear this part of the conversation and are shocked. They support Edith. "A quick marriage will only hurt your chances for reelection next year, Mr. President."
"Nonsense," the President counters.
The President asks Edith repeatedly to reconsider. She explains she’s lived in the capital too long to have missed the public’s fascination with whoever happens to occupy the White House. "Tourists hound the president’s family. And I hate snoops and they are a part of Washington life. But most important, we must allow an appropriate interval to elapse."
On August 29 and 30 the very generous Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont opens her palatial home in Newport to the National Women’s Party and select members of the press.
The house is magnificent. Decorated in the colors of suffrage. The mansion is flooded in a golden light.
Political leaders, trade-unionists, women of wealth and position, women active in the communities, professional women of every sort, artists and artisans are all gathered here to hatch a plan to hold.
Alice Paul asks the press to withdraw and outlines a national election strategy. "The Democrats have been in control of all branches of government and they are therefore responsible for the non-passage of our measure.
"The point is: Who is our enemy and how shall that enemy be attacked? We now lay before you a plan. We propose going to the nine Suffrage States and appealing to the women to use their votes to secure the franchise for the rest of the country. Now the time has come to go into national politics and use four million votes to get the vote for the rest of us. The stage this time is the entire United States of America."
By the middle of September they are all at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco, at a Convention of women voters.
Mrs. Belmont opens the Convention, "We women of the North, of the South and of the East, branded on account of sex, disenfranchised as criminals and imbeciles, come to the glorious West, where the broad vision of its men has seen justice."
Mrs. Fremont Older, the novelist, is next. "I thought Women Suffrage was like Utopia. When women were good enough to vote, the men would give it to them. But I have learned that Utopias are not given away; they must be fought for."
Dr. Yami Kin, the first woman physician in addresses the gathering. "All countries look to North and West for inspiration and help in their march toward freedom."
Mme. Maria Montessori, the famous Italian physician and educator, makes a point. "We have watched individual States in your country give justice to women, one by one. Now we’re waiting for the United States to declare its women free."
Doris points out President’s inconsistency. In Philadelphia, the President welcomes a great army of naturalized immigrants, but denies a hearing to American women.
In the exhibition hall, the national Woman Party’s booth, displays the Record of the Sixty-third Congress.
All visitors are asked to look up the record of their Congressman to discover how he voted on the Suffrage Amendment. Then they are asked to sign a monster petition.
Sara Bard Field describes it for the Suffragist. "The world passes by and looks reverently up at the sweet face of Susan B. Anthony whose portrait hangs upon the wall."
The convention passes a resolution calling on the Sixty-fourth Congress to vote for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Several young women, including Doris, are chosen as envoys to carry the Resolution across the country to its destination.
The final ceremony of the convention takes place in the Court of Abundance. A thousand orange lanterns sway in the breeze. A band plays.
Mrs. Belmont accepts a bronze medal in recognition of the work done by the Congressional Union, on behalf of the National Woman’s Party.
Ten thousand people witness her acceptance. The large crowd comes from many countries and many are in native costume. Members of the Congressional Union wear surplices of the organizations colors.
Framing the stage is a great curtained arch that flutters in red, white and blue. Hanging with the Stars and Stripes is the great suffrage banner: WE DEMAND an amendment to the constitution of the United States Enfranchising women.
Everyone sings the Song of Free Women (sung to the Marseillaise), and escorts the envoys, who carry the lighted torch of liberty, to a big overland touring car bedecked in the color of suffrage.
As they drive away, cheers burst forth from the well-wishers and the crusaders are off and on their way across country.
The car travels every type of terrain and stops in towns and farms all along the way. In Reno, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Kansas they enlighten and amuse.
At every stop a bigwig, Mayor or a Governor, welcomes the envoys. As their petition grows, Doris keeps track of events in her Suffragist articles.
Chicago. Indianapolis. Detroit. Albany. The crowds grow larger.
In national newspapers, the story of their journey pushes European war news off the front page.
Meantime, the President and Edith compose their wedding announcement. Afterward, the President types out a press release announcing he will vote for suffrage in his home state of New Jersey where it is on the state ballot.
Edith doesn’t understand. To her, suffrage is a threat to the future of the family, to the country.
Wilson reassures her, "I believe it is the right thing to do at this time, my dear little girl. And beside, If I support the women’s cause now, it will force the gossip mongers to talk about something other than the circumstances of the president’s remarriage and whether or not he now sleeps in a double bed.
The pilgrimage from San Francisco logs five thousand miles as the car drives into Boston. A huge reception welcomes them. The demand banner still flies from the car, though it has seen better days. A hundred cars, all beautifully decorated with balloons and purple ribbons, gold and white chrysanthemums follow the weather-beaten touring car to the pier where it is put on a boat to New York City.
From New York, the car is on to Washington where it is met by a group of women on horseback, representing all the States in the Union.
They carry a replica of the Liberty Bell, and bear a petition with five hundred thousand signatures. The petition is so long, it requires 20 people to carry it.
The motorcade’s first stop is Congress. They climb the Capitol steps to the music of the Marseillaise.
A reception committee, composed of senators and representatives, meet the women at the top of the Capitol steps. Speeches are made. Then, it’s on to the White House.
Edith insists the President refuse to see women. The President cannot. Alice Paul has invited the press, whom he accuses "of favoring the interesting over the important."
The President receives the envoy in the East Room where Mrs. Joliffe asks. "Help us, Mr. President, to a new freedom and a larger liberty. You have said it was a matter for the States to decide. But we have watched you change and develop your mind on preparedness, and we honestly believe that circumstances may change your mind in this regard."
Mrs. Field asks the President to look at the petition. He unrolls a portion of it and says, "I did not come here anticipating the necessity of making an address of any kind."
Doris glows, remembering the moment. "About then, Jess, something heavenly happened. Mrs. Belmont, bless her soul, bought us Cameron House, a beautiful and well-appointed mansion, and we were finally able to move out of that dark, smelly basement on F. Street.
"Cameron House was terribly famous, you know. It had been occupied by Senators and Vice Presidents before us. It was perfectly situated for our purpose -- 21 Madison Place -- just across from the White House.
"Everyone called it ‘The Little White House’ because from the windows of the big White House, you could see our great banners and colorful flags. This infuriated the new First Lady, which hadn’t been our intention, of course, but caused no end of amusement."
December 18, 1915. Surrounded by family and friends, Edith Bolling Galt and the President exchange vows in Edith’s posh home.
Wilson’s daughters are joyous, though Margaret jokes to Dudley, "This union will set suffrage back a million years."
"Not true." Dudley replies a bit indignantly. "Your father will declare for national suffrage. He told me so himself."
After the wedding reception, the Presidential limousine carries an elated Edith, her maid and her many trunks to her new home and life as First Lady. When Edith sees her new neighbors’ welcome, a brightly colored banner proclaiming, "The Little White House" Headquarters of the National Women’s Party. Votes for Women, a cloud crosses her face. "We’ll see about that!" She mutters.
Late that night, a light still burns in a second floor window. Inside, President Wilson teaches Edith the secret code he uses to communicate with his European emissary, Colonel House. From now on, Edith encodes and decodes every message. Beside the President, and much to the chagrin of Wilson’s cabinet, she is the only one who knows the whole foreign policy picture.
The White House comes alive under Edith’s direction. She entertains often and sits devotedly by the President’s side. She constantly instructs Elizabeth Jaffray, head housekeeper for 14 years, on how she wants things run at the White House.
Valentine’s Day, 1916, Cameron House is again ablaze with banners. This time the colors are red and white. Inside a thousand valentines are being inscribed so they can be dispatched to each and every Senator and Representative in Congress, as well as to the President and Vice President. The words may vary for each Valentine, but the message is fundamentally the same. Representative Pou’s Valentine, for example, shows an exquisitely ruffled little maiden curtsying to a gentleman who is presenting her with a bouquet. Underneath it reads:
The rose is red
The violet’s blue,
But VOTES are better
Cameron House proves a splendid Headquarters. It is an exciting place - the kind of place lots of gay and interesting people drop into easily.
Organizers, the young women Alice dispatches to distant parts, return here with news and new ideas. The Press Department works hard to keep their work in the public eye.
At this point, the President and First Lady cannot come or go without confronting Alice’s troops. Everything Alice does irritates the First Lady. The pageantry. The stunting. Everything. There is no surcease.
One thing that makes Alice Paul a great general is her sense of timing - as soon as she exhausts one tactic, she enthusiastically attacks another. At an executive meeting at Headquarters, Alice outlines a new action.
"Our plan is this: to send at least two women to each of the nine States in which women can vote. We put one woman at the center that attends to the organizing, publicity and distribution of literature. The other visits all the large towns of the State and speaks at every opportunity. First, however, we must raise seven thousand dollars to underwrite the mission."
There is a farewell garden party for the organizers. Teams are dispatched to the nine enfranchised states. Lucy Burns and Rose Winslow leave to open a San Francisco headquarters.
Doris Stevens and Mrs. Belmont are off to Colorado.
Doris’ articles for The Suffragist, tell the story. "In Denver the Senator’s daughter gave us a drawing room, in her beautiful home in which to have our meeting. She invited representatives, women and men from all Parties, to come and hear of our work. One hundred women showed up. The meeting was a splendid success judging from the large number who joined the Union and gave generously."
In another article, she writes, "At town meetings I find the women very open to reason. The one thing I had not expected was to find how chivalrous all the men are. I have never been so overwhelmed with courtesy and chivalry as I am out West."
At a church picnic, Doris rallies women to vote against the President as he has done nothing to secure justice for a full half of all Americans, and is surprised to find herself face-to-face with Dudley Field Malone, the President’s emissary to Western women.
"Like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln before him, Woodrow Wilson is a man of high ideals and great vision." Dudley says in his speech. "I assure you President Wilson has taken the suffrage question to heart. He has promised that in his next address to Congress he will urge them to introduce a federal amendment enfranchising all American women."
After the speeches, Dudley approaches Doris. "You are a passionate speaker, Miss Stevens.
"And you, Mr. Malone, are a persuasive apologist for the same old party line." Dudley retorts, "Shall I take that as a complement?"
It is an electric encounter for these two soldiers who serve different masters. It is clear their mutual fascination will not end here.
Back in Washington, Dudley courts Doris. He’s put off by Alice’s tactics and militant philosophy and says so. Doris tells Dudley, "Alice Paul is a woman who walks apart. She does what she does for Justice. Faith is her guide she knows she has right is on her side. The President has said it himself, ‘It is the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.’"
"Touché, Miss Stevens."
Doris and Dudley are occasional guests at the White House. At dinner one night, much to Dudley’s chagrin, Doris discusses justice for women. Edith tells her home and family are the true goals of a well-adjusted women. Doris is about to disagree when Dudley kicks her under the table. Her "ouch" stops the conversation and the President takes over telling one of his silly nonsense stories. Soon, everyone except Doris is laughing.
By the time the 1916 election, voters are worried about the war in Europe. Many believe it will involve us and, if it does, the Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes would be a better commander in chief. The Congressional Union and National Women’s Party support him. The election is up for grabs.
Election night, 1916. At Headquarters they are waiting for the results from the voting booths out West. Doris is confident that Colorado’s women will defeat the President. Mrs. Helena Hill Weed is certain that no Democrat will come to Congress from Wyoming or from the West. Lucy and Rose are pretty sure that California will go to Hughes. Alice is not so sure. "Regardless, we will have made our point simply by reducing the President’s majority. He dare not ignore us now."
Wilson’s family and friends are gathered at the White House waiting for the news. The men play pool. The women chat nervously. The election returns are disappointing. Edith declares the American people haven’t shown her husband the appreciation he deserves.
When the President realizes he’s won California by only 4000 votes, he is miffed. "It is that damned Miss Paul’s doing. Why can’t she behave like an normal woman?"
The President knows now that a suffrage amendment will pass, but he has just been re-elected and can take his time doing anything about it.
Knowing that the President is safe for four years, Alice realizes she must devise another method to keep suffrage front and center in his mind. They must find a way to make him personally want the immediate enactment of the amendment. That is the key.
By this time, Alice Paul has a nationwide organization in place - 50,000 women. 5,000 of whom are in Washington at her beck and call. These women are organized into squadrons, each with clearly delineated responsibilities.
When Inauguration Day dawns cold, wet and windy, Alice summons a raincoat company to Headquarters and issues a thousand sets of tarpaulin hats, coats and rubbers.
The same morning, for the first time in history, a woman, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, rides in the presidential carriage to the Capitol. She is the only woman present at the swearing-in ceremony. But her day of glory is spoiled when she returns to the White House and finds several bands and a shocking sight -- a thousand rain-drenched women circling her home with placards asking: Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty? Edith fumes.
Later that night, when the President and First Lady are alone, Edith tells her husband, "You must do something about these detestable suffragettes. They are tarnishing your reputation. They ought to be punished."
Through a White House insider, Alice discovers President Wilson is not going to mention suffrage in his Congressional address though he had promised to do so. She retreats to her office to consider her response. It is important to make the public aware of the President’s hypocrisy.
On the day of the President’s address to Congress, Alice leads five ladies to the Capitol with a plan to inject the message they now know the President will leave out.
These soldiers for justice take front row gallery seats. At a pre-arranged moment in the President’s address, Alice unpins a banner hidden under her skirt and drops it over the balcony. It snaps smartly asking: Mr. President, What will you do for Women’s Suffrage?
Spectators gasp. The President falters. The First Lady is beside herself. Giggles come from the gallery. Guards force their way through the crowd, but Alice and her troops have planned for this. They are strategically placed to slow down the advancing guards. A comical scene unfolds as guards try to move around these demure roadblocks.
Finally, a Page jumps up and yanks the banner down.
Later that evening, Democratic Party heavyweight, J.A. Hopkins and his lovely wife Alison, host a dinner party. Alice and Alison are friends from Swarthmore. Alison has arranged to bring Alice and the President face-to-face in this informal setting in the hopes it will help the cause. Her husband is opposed. He does not trust Alice, but Alison assures him he has nothing to worry about,
Just as the President and First Lady arrive, Alison whispers to Alice, "You get more with honey than with vinegar, Alice. Be friendly. This is a dinner party. I promised A. J. you’d behave. Please, Alice."
Alice struggles with small talk. The conversation turns to war. The President says it grows increasingly difficult to remain neutral. Somebody speculates we’ll join the war soon. Alice says if America goes to war, it will be the lifeblood of women that is sacrificed. Allison throws her a look. A.J. is annoyed. Alice continues, "You can’t ask American women to give you their sons, Mr. President, if you will not give them the vote."
You can hear a pin drop. Alison is mortified. A.J. throws her an "I told you so." Edith bristles. Someone breaks the tension and changes the subject, but Alice won’t be put off and proclaims the fight for political freedom for women will not be put aside because of the war.
On her way out, Alice whispers to Allison, "It will take more than honey or vinegar to change his mind." Allison ignores the comment and blasts, "How could you!"
Alice responds, "How couldn’t I?"
At an Executive Meeting in Cameron House, Alice and her lieutenants discuss a new strategy they call "The Perpetual Delegation."
Alice lays it out this way: "If a creditor stands before a man’s house all day long, demanding payment of his bill, the man must either move the creditor or pay the bill."
THE PERPETUAL DELEGATION
January 10, 1917, twelve women walk out of Cameron House, march across Lafayette Square to the White House. Four carry a lettered banner and eight carry purple, white and gold banners of the Women’s Party.
Six women take up a position at the East Gate, six at the West gate. There are two banners at each gate. One reads: MR. President what will you do for Woman Suffrage? The other says: How long must women wait for liberty? From now on the pickets are on duty at the gates 24 hours a day.
The president, raised to believe that chivalry always wins, sends his secretary, Tumulty, to invite the picketers in for tea. He is upset when they refuse.
Now each afternoon when The President and First Lady drive through the big iron gates on their way to play golf, they cannot escape The National Women’s Party’s messages. The placards now carry the President’s own words: Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. Governments DERIVE THEIR just power from the consent of the governed. This is too much for Edith.
She suggests to her husband, picketing should be against the law. He tells her the right to picket is guaranteed by the Clayton Act. She says, "Well, it shouldn’t be." He says, "Don’t worry. These silly women will tire of it soon. It is getting cold."
But he is wrong. The picket line, dubbed "Silent Sentinels" by the press, is tireless and become a cause celebre. They picket every day of the week except Sundays. They picket in rain, sleet, hail, and snow. All kinds of people picket, all races, all classes, all professions and all parties. The spectators are friendly and curious. Children stop to spell out the inscriptions.
On freezing days, Sherman, the janitor, trundles over from Headquarters with a wheelbarrow piled high with hot bricks. The pickets stand on them to keep warm. A newspaper describes it this way. "At the end of the day, when the pickets step down, it is like a line of statues, stepping off their pedestals.
Meanwhile the German campaign of sea terror keeps more and more ships at home. Goods pile up on wharves and in warehouses. More and more, Americans demand their government protect sea-going commerce.
The subject is debated in a Cabinet Meeting. Wilson reproaches the "champions of belligerency," and tells them he will not risk war by arming American ships, no matter how blatant and hostile the German government acts.
Then Wilson receives an intercepted message from the German Foreign Secretary Zimmermann to Germany’s minister in Mexico City, proposing an alliance with the Mexico whereby they would join with Germany in a war on the United States. In return, Mexico would receive in return the "lost territories in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona."
All sides bombard the President with advice. He goes into seclusion, from March 12 to the 20th. Edith reports the President is in spiritual agony contemplating his choices. Then, the Germans deport thousands of Belgians as forced labor for the Reich. This is the last straw.
Wilson sits down at his battered typewriter and pecks out his war message. He is suffering another migraine. Edith brings him milk and grahams to calm his nerves. She rubs his neck trying to relieve his tension.
On the night of April 2nd, the silent sentinels take their places at the Capitol steps. The Capitol grounds are overrun with pacifists. Cavalry troops stand by. At 8:30 in evening the President addresses a joint session of Congress:
"We shall fight for the things which we have always held nearest our hearts - for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government."
From the halls of Congress comes a deafening thunder of applause.
At Headquarters, someone asks about the impact of the war on their plans. "War or no war, we will be at the White House gates," says Alice. Everyone knows this will be unpopular. "Political power for women serves the highest interest of this country." Alice reminds them. "What is the point of fighting for freedom abroad when we don’t enjoy it at home?"
A new sign goes up at the White House: An autocrat at home is a poor champion of liberty abroad.
Some Party members quit on the spot. But new members join up all the time. After war is declared, unexpectedly, money pours into headquarters doubling receipts providing Alice with the means to keep things interesting.
Throughout the spring the pickets stand at the White House Gates. Alice breaks up the monotony by staging special events. This triggers a storm of criticism and hostility.
Alice Paul is steadfast. She reminds everyone that when the Civil War broke out, suffragists of the day were begged to give up their fight and work for the war effort. They were told then that they’d be enfranchised after the war. With great reluctance, Susan B. Anthony complied. The result? At the end of that war, the black man was enfranchised, but women were still asking to vote. "We are not going to make the same mistake."
The eyes of the world are on the White House. Distinguished men and foreign missions come one after another to visit the President.
When Balfour, the leader the British Mission, calls, he is confronted with 40 pickets carrying banners featuring the words the President spoke before the joint session of Congress: "We shall fight for the things which we have always held nearest our hearts - or democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government."
The day the English, French and Russian missions arrive to meet with the President, the banner addresses the President as "Kaiser". This incenses a young man in uniform and he pulls the banner down, stomping on it.
A brave soul in the crowd yells out, "Leave ‘em alone. They got their rights." Another shouts, "This is a free country, isn’t it?" A skirmish breaks out.
Edith witnesses the action from her second floor window and gives her husband a blow-by-blow of the scene at the gates. Wilson, suffering from another migraine, reclines on a chaise.
Mortified, Edith tells her husband the Russian Ambassador is actually waving his approval. "Damned embarrassing." the President mutters. Edith can hardly contain her fury, "Miss Paul is not only insulting, she is dangerous. You must do something, Woodrow."
Across the way, Alice watches from her window.
The next day, a prominent newspaperman shows up at Headquarters and tells Alice he fears the President might be assassinated by someone in the crowd attracted to the pickets.
"Is the Administration willing to have us make this public?" Alice asks.
"Oh, no. Certainly not," the newsman stammers.
"The picketing will go on as usual, then." Alice informs him.
By summer, a wave of patriotism engulfs the nation. Washington’s streets are filled with the colors of khaki and navy and the sound of boots. At the picket line, the placards seem suddenly provocative, although they only carry the President’s words.
An outraged soldier dashes out of the crowd and drags Alice Paul across the muddy street, tearing her dress. A sailor comes to her rescue, and he is attacked.
The skirmish turns into a riot. The angry crowd presses toward headquarters. The crowd throws eggs and epithets. Two soldiers throw a ladder up against the building. Young men crawl up and tear down the American flag and the tri-colored flags hanging off the balcony.
Shots ring out. Bullets crash through the windows. Through it all, Doris and Lucy stand on the balcony with flags fluttering until, a soldier pulls Doris from behind back and rips at her clothes, cursing. At this moment, with much fanfare, the police arrive and restore order.
An angry Police Chief, Major Pullman, calls on Alice and warns her, "If you picket again, we will arrest you." Alice says, "Our lawyers assure us picketing is perfectly legal. Certainly it is as legal in June as it was in January, and March, and April and May." "I warn you," the Chief bellows, "if you picket again, you will be arrested. I’ve got my orders."
The next day, rows of policemen surround Cameron House. As a diversionary tactic, Alice sends scores of women in and out of the mansion. The cops don’t notice Lucy and Doris leaving Headquarters with a box. The two cross Lafayette Park and meet up with several others women. Together they unfurl a banner which says: Mr. President, You SAY, "Liberty is a fundamental demand of the human spirit."
They are momentarily unobserved. Then a policeman spots them, "You little devils." Another cries, "Arrest ‘em!" Another intervenes, "My God, man you can’t arrest ‘em for that. Those are the President’s own words."
After a few comical moments of indecision, the police do arrest Lucy, Doris and twelve others. They are pushed into a Black Maria and driven to the police station.
Both Alice and Edith watch the action from their respective windows.
The next day the pickets are on trial in the court of the District of Columbia. They refuse counsel. Lucy leads the defense and demands their banners be admitted as evidence.
When the banner is unfurled in the courtroom, everybody bursts into laughter. No one can quite believe they’ve been arrested for carrying these words: Mr. President, you say "Liberty is a fundamental desire of the human spirit."
The judge is not amused. He accuses the pickets of treasonable behavior and sentences them to 60 days in the workhouse for "obstructing traffic."
At the Occuquan workhouse, these genteel ladies are humiliated and treated like common criminals. Issued numbers, they are stripped of their possessions including their money and jewelry.
Mrs. Belmont hands over her very expensive diamond and pearl necklace to the warden, admonishing him to put it in a safe place. The warden is flustered.
The prisoners are herded into a dormitory. A matron orders them to strip. Then she orders sixteen regular prisoners, mostly poor black women, to take off their vermin-infested rags and give them to the pickets.
Everyone is in shock. Lucy is defiant. Two guards grab her, viciously dragging her out of the room by her hair. Old Mrs. Nolan, 75 and lame, tries to help Lucy.
She is manhandled, dragged out of the room, across a courtyard, down a dark corridor and thrown her into a cell where she hits her head on an iron bedstead.
Not a single picket escapes injury that night.
Meantime, the picketing continues. One day, six women appear at the White House gates. They are immediately arrested. They refuse to pay a fine. The Magistrate sentences them to 30 days in the government workhouse
A few days later, four more are arrested and given the same sentence. This goes on day in and day out.
At the workhouse, the ladies soon discover their cellmates are rats and tuberculars. The women are forced to use the same piece of soap and share the same drinking cup with the "regulars." They are forced to scrub toilets barehanded.
They are denied counsel and held incommunicado.
Mealtime is a special torture. There are worms in everything set before them. The ladies make sport of collecting the worms that float in their soup. Each table counts up its score of weevils and worms. Lucy collects them and presents them to the warden. He retaliates. Manacling her ankles and wrists, he throws her into solitary.
Meantime, old Mrs. Nolan is on death’s door. When the workhouse authorities realize she might die in their care, they quickly release her. She carries word of the horrors back to Headquarters.
Alice calls a press conference and recounts in vivid detail what happened the night the ladies were put in jail. She calls it the "Night of Terror" and the story makes headline news across the country.
Doris writes in the Suffragist. "No woman there will ever forget the shock and the hot resentment when we were told to undress before the entire company, including two negress attendants and a harsh-voiced Matron, who kept telling us it was after hours and, they ‘had worked too long already today,’ as if it were our fault that we were there. We silenced our impulse to resist this indignity, which grew more poignant as each woman nakedly walked across the great vacant space to the door less shower."
What the President hadn’t realized when he authorized the arrests, was two wives of his associates were imprisoned. Both men, Hopkins, and Gardner (a well-known newspaper man), call on the President separately, to protest the treatment their wives are receiving at the hands of the workhouse authorities. The President tells each he is shocked and disavows any knowledge of what is going on at Occuquan.
Dudley also calls on the President. He vigorously protests the circumstances of the picket’s imprisonment. Again, Wilson claims he has no knowledge of the situation. Dudley tells him he knows now.
When Dudley leaves, Edith explodes, "Dudley is impertinent. It is obvious his loyalties lie elsewhere!"
The next day the President pardons the prisoners. Within hours Alison Hopkins is at the White House gates with a banner: We ask not pardon for ourselves but justice for all American women. While she stands there, the President passes through the gates and salutes.
The picketing continues, attracting tourists in sightseeing busses and women in motorcars.
Crowds streaming home in the afternoon from offices often comment when banners strike a chord: I have no son to give my country to fight for democracy abroad so I send my daughter to Washington to fight for democracy at home.
Ex-Senator Henry W. Blair, white-haired and ninety, visits the soldiers at the gates. He tells them he was a friend of Susan B Anthony’s and made the first speech ever in the Senate in favor of suffrage. They are pleased to meet him and he shakes and kisses each picket’s hand.
The ladies’ intention is to keep complete silence, but the throngs passing by have questions that need answering.
"Why are you doing this?" Someone asks. The answer is always the same: "The President asked us to concert public opinion before we could expect anything of him. We are concerting upon him."
Another question. "Why don’t you go to Congress?"
"We have, again and again. Congress tells us if the President wants it, it will go through."
Laborers digging trenches in the street nearby show the picket’s their support by making wooden supports for their banners. They offer benches, too, but the ladies refuse. "Sentinels," they say, "stand at their posts."
A stranger comes up and addresses the silent sentinels that flank the gates "I wonder if you realize what a medieval spectacle you young women present? You’ve made me realize you are on a crusade."
Though the President does his best each afternoon to ignore the action as he passes through the gates, it annoys Edith. She refers to the silent sentinels as "those devils".
In an effort to get the President to take action, Alice ups the ante and sends Elizabeth Stuyvesant to the picket line with a new banner: Kaiser Wilson, have you forgotten your sympathy with the poor Germans because they were not self-governing? Twenty million American women are not self-GOVERNING; take the beam out of your own eye.
Kaiser! That is the last straw. Edith snaps. She begs her husband to do something about those detestable suffragettes.
On September 13th, six pickets leave Headquarters at half past four in the afternoon. Two young women carry a lettered banner: How long must women wait for liberty Mr. President, What will you do for suffrage?
In the dying light of the afternoon, it is an ethereal sight. Dressed in lavender, holding the great golden banner and their tri-colors high, the Silent Sentinels seem to sail to the White House gates.
Several policemen and a crowd are gathered there. The spectators make way for the pickets. No one knows quite what to expect.
Moving picture men record the event until the police confiscate their cameras; destroy one of them in the process.
Gladys Greiner snaps pictures of the crowd. She levels her Kodak at a police captain. He kicks her. She continues taking pictures. Her pictures will later accompany Doris’ articles.
A policeman orders a sailor and a marine to move away from the pickets. Instead, they push closer.
Suddenly the sailor snatches the banner and tears it apart passing the scraps of to friends. The police don’t interfere. Then, they arrest the women.
The pickets appear in District Court before Judge Mullowny. He rules all evidence, except that given by the policeman, inadmissible.
As to the police captain who kicked Mrs. Greiner, the Judge says, "I have nothing to do with those things; they have nothing to do with the case."
Then he asks, "Would you ladies pay the fine instead of going to prison if I made the fine fifty cents?"
"Not if you make it five cents." Mrs. Kendall tells him
The Judge bangs his gavel and sentences them to 30 days.
On September 22nd, twelve women, standing a few feet apart, flank the White House gates like living statues. Their banner quotes the President.
A policeman calls the banner " seditious." Another shouts orders. More blue coats come and elbow their way through the crowd. A patrol car clangs in the distance and the pickets are no longer flanking the gates
In court, the women tell the judge they are not citizens, as they are not represented. "We were silently and peacefully attempting to gain the freedom of twenty million women in the United States of America. We have broken no law. We are guilty of no crimes." They are sentenced to thirty days for "obstructing traffic".
The next four pickets who leave Headquarters are stopped at the curb by a patrol car. The policeman tells them to move on, and then promptly arrests them.
In court the choice is pay a 25-dollar fine or spend six months in the district workhouse. More and more women go to the workhouse.
October 20th is a blustery day at the White House Gates. Bundled up, the pickets stand on hot bricks. Government clerks going to and from work pause to read the banners.
Alice watches from her window as Doris reads a message smuggled out of prison where 46 women are now incarcerated for "obstructing traffic." Alice sees the patrol wagon coming in the distance. She grabs her coat, hat and turns back for a book, which she tucks in her drawers. Doris pleads with her not to go.
Alice exits her office and takes the stairs, all the time dictating the things that need to be done in her absence. Doris begs her not to do this.
"Your job is to carry on," Alice tells her while she chooses a gold-lettered banner with the slogan: the time has come to conquer or Submit. For us there can be but one choice, WE have made it." These are the very words Wilson has had stamped into every Liberty Bond Loan of 1917.
At both the East and West Gates, the pickets are being arrested and herded into waiting patrol cars. There’s a large crowd today. Many applaud the women.
When Alice reaches the picket line, she, too, is dragged to a patrol wagon. On the way, she tells a reporter, "I am being imprisoned not because I obstructed traffic, but because I pointed out to the President that he is obstructing the progress of Democracy and justice at home while Americans are dying for it abroad."
From her vantage point, Edith is triumphant. At last the leader is behind bars. Now those detestable suffragettes will stop harassing her poor, beleaguered husband.
Eleven women including Alice Paul are on trial. The arresting officer testifies: "I made my way through the crowd that was surrounding them, and told the ladies they were violating the law by standing at the gates, and would not they please move on."
Assistant District Attorney Hart asks the officer if they moved on and the officer replies, "They did not. They didn’t answer neither so I put them under arrest. Those were my orders."
When it’s the picket’s turn to address the Court, they refuse. They won’t be sworn. They won’t question witnesses. Instead, Alice Paul speaks for the record:
"We do not wish to make any plea before this Court since, as an unenfranchised class, we have nothing to do with the making of the laws which have put us in this position."
Judge Mullowny is annoyed and gives them a choice between a twenty-five dollar fine and six months in the district workhouse. The pickets refuse to pay. He sentences Alice Paul and the other banner carrier, Caroline Spencer, to seven months in jail. The rest he sends to the workhouse for six months.
JAILED FOR FREEDOM
Alice is taken to District Jail the same day. There she finds ten other confined earlier. They are miserable and complain that no fresh air is allowed in the cellblock. Alice reaches into her under drawers and pulls out her cherished copy of Browning. After the briefest hesitation, she sends it crashing through a window. A gush of air rushes in and a round of applause echoes through the cellblock.
Called a troublemaker, Alice is thrown into a "punishment cell." From here, she organizes a hunger strike.
From solitary Alice rallies her troops. A charwoman carries messages to Doris instructing her to keep the pressure on. She tells Doris to send a message to the President demanding that all pickets be treated as political prisoners.
On Monday the District of Columbia Commissioner Gardner makes a statement saying such demands will never be met.
When news gets out that Alice Paul is in jail, held incommunicado, women come from all over the states to join the picket line. Every day there are more and more pickets. And every day there are more and more arrests.
With Alice and Lucy in prison, Doris is in charge. She’s upset because she cannot find out where the prisoners are being kept. Though sentenced to the District Jail, they are not being held there. Dorris gets an idea.
She meets the morning train — the one that usually carries released prisoners from Occoquan and gets lucky finding a released prisoner who updates her on the situation: Sixteen women join Miss Paul on the hunger-strike including Mrs. Lawrence Lewis and Lucy Burns. None has eaten for more than a week.
Worried, Superintendent Whittaker tries to get the women to sign a paper saying they themselves were responsible for any injury upon their health. The women refuse. The Superintendent yells, "All right, you can starve!"
On Sunday night, nine days into the hunger strike, the Superintendent loses resolve and approaches Mrs. Lewis to ask what can be done.
Mrs. Lewis tells Whittaker the pickets want to be treated as political prisoners. They should be free to exercise, to receive mail, visitors and reading material.
Whittaker barks at he to write all their demands down. He takes her statement to the Commissioners the District of Columbia. Commissioner Gardner makes a statement that such demands will never be recognized.
Matthew O’Brien, the women’s lawyer gets an order from the Court to admit him to Occoquan. Whittaker refuses him entry.
Meantime, inside, authorities suspect Lucy is somehow facilitating communication between all those locked up. To lower her morale they take her clothes away.
When O’Brien does finally get to see her, he finds her wrapped in blankets in a dark cell looking poorly.
Those on the hunger strike both at Washington Prison and Occoquan grow frail and sickly. Many share quarters with tubercular and syphilitic prisoners.
Superintendent Whittaker worries that Mrs. Lawrence Lewis and Lucy Burns will die. Unbeknownst to the other prisoners, he takes them to the hospital and force-feeds them.
Lucy smuggles a note to Headquarters: "Yesterday at about four o’clock Mrs. Lewis and I were taken to the operating room. Dr. Gannon said he wished to examine us. We refused. We asked for a woman physician.
"We were dragged around. Our clothes were removed and we were examined against our will. We do not make it easy. It takes Dr. Gannon, two other doctors, a matron, and four colored prisoners to hold us down.
"I refused to open my mouth so Gannon pushed a tube up my left nostril. When the tube came out it was covered with blood. It made me very, very sick. Food dumped directly into the stomach feels like a ball of lead."
In court we find out the real reason the two women were removed to the hospital. They had a court date. To prevent their appearance in court, Whittaker tells the Judge Miss Burns and Mrs. Lewis are too ill to appear.
Dudley Field Malone, representing the women, tries to show the court that Superintendent Whittaker removed Lucy Burns and Mrs. Lawrence after having received the writ of habeas corpus.
Dudley interrogates Whittaker and asks if the women are being force-fed. The warden replies, "They are not."
Then Dudley asks, "How many men does it take to hold Miss Burns while she is being force fed. Whittaker answers, "Four."
Dudley turns to the Judge, "Then, your Honor, don’t you think that if it takes four men to hold Miss Burns down to force feed her, she is strong enough to appear in Court?"
The next day, both Mrs. Lewis and Lucy Burns are before the judge. He finds their detention illegal and frees them on parole.
Mrs. Lewis and Lucy refuse parole for they committed no crime. Back to prison they go.
The next note smuggled out comes from Washington Jail where Alice and several others are confined. The note is from Rose Winslow.
"Miss Paul and I have been in solitary for five weeks.
"Yesterday was a bad day for me in feeding. I was vomiting continually during the process. I fainted again last night. The same doctor feeds us both.
"Don’t let them tell you we take it well. Miss Paul vomits constantly. The feeding gives us severe headaches. I cry and sob to my great disgust. It is quite against my will. I’ll try to be less feeble-minded. Miss Paul is such an inspiration."
November 9th, forty-one women go down to Washington Jail where Alice and others are held. Warden Zinkman is in charge here. His house is close to the wing in which Alice is imprisoned.
Three women ring the warden’s doorbell. When the door opens they ask to see the warden. They are told the warden is too ill to see them.
The three give a prearranged signal to a silent crowd behind them. With one accord the group crosses the grounds and cluster under Alice Paul’s window.
Before the guards can muster enough men, each woman tells Alice her name. They report a large sum of money has come into the Treasury that day, and that forty-one of them would protest against her imprisonment on the picket line tomorrow. Then, just as Vida Mulholland starts to sing a song, they are manhandled off the grounds. But they can’t silence Vida’s song.
The next morning, November 10th, a picket line prepares to leave Headquarters, forty-one women divided into five groups.
The first group leaves Headquarters led by Mrs. Brannan. As usual, they carry gold-lettered banners and take up their silent statuesque positions at the East and West gates.
A thick stream of government workers pass the silent sentinels and applaud when they arrested. "Keep it up" someone yells, "They’ll give it to you."
The second group of pickets number ten women. They too have banners and flags when they leave Cameron House. They, too, are arrested at the gates. The same happens to the third and fourth contingent. The last group, led by the frail and lame seventy-year-old Mary Nolan, gallantly takes up their posts. The onlookers applaud as they are arrested.
These forty-one women are tried on November 12th and charged with obstructing traffic. They plead not guilty. The judge dismisses the case.
No sooner do these ladies return to Headquarters than they are back on the line. The police are dumbfounded. They arrest the pickets, but have to commandeer passing cars to take them to the police station.
Meantime, Alice languishes in solitary.
Doris begs Dudley to do something. Together they go to see the warden. Dudley argues that Alice and the others have civil rights and among them is a right to counsel.
The warden tells them, "I make the rules at District Jail. No one can see Miss Paul or any of them other prisoners." Dudley vows to institute habeas corpus proceedings and threatens to appeal to a higher authority.
Dudley calls on the President. The First Lady sits in the background making bandages for the Red Cross. Dudley protests the horrific circumstances under which the pickets are now being held.
The President disavows any knowledge of the particular circumstances of imprisonment. Dudley knows better. He reminds the President that both the judge who gave Alice Paul her seven-month sentence and the warden who holds her incommunicado are his appointments.
The President refuses to budge. Dudley resigns his post, telling President Wilson he will fight as hard for the political freedom of women as he has always fought for what he thought was the President’s liberal leadership. The President is crushed. Edith, outraged, calls Dudley a traitor.
Rats scurry about Alice’s filthy cell. A charwoman is let in to retrieve the toilet bowl and slips Alice a note. Before Alice can read it, the cell door crashes open and the warden struts in demanding Alice call off the hunger strike or "I will force-feed every last one of you myself."
Though pale and wan, Alice is calm and outwardly confident. She tells the warden, "When you treat us as the political prisoners we are, we shall eat. We’ve not offended against any law but rather the President. We are entitled to due process."
Outraged, the warden threatens Alice with a place far worse than District Jail if she says one more word against the President. Just then they crack the eggs.
Back at the White House, the warden reports to the President. "Everyday more and more ladies are arrested. I don’t have the manpower and resources to force-feed any more women." Edith rubs her husband’s shoulders hoping to ease his pain. "That woman is insane." Edith suggests. "She should be institutionalized."
The charwomen shows up with another note but tells Doris this will be the last one because Miss Paul has been transferred to St. Elizabeth’s - the government insane asylum. "You’d be proud of Miss Paul." She boasts to Doris. "It takes four strong men to hold her down to force feed her. Poor thing, soon as she hears them eggs cracking, she gags."
Doris is beside herself. But what can she do? She keeps the press informed and women on the picket line. There are 34 women in three different penal institutions. She must talk to Alice, but how?
Doris dons a pair of trousers, a seedy overcoat and pulls her hair under a hat. She hails a taxi.
ST. ELIZABETH’S INSANE ASYLUM
Doris sneaks onto the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s. A full moon lights up the night. Doris checks her map.
She finds Alice’s window and takes a handful of beans out of her pocket. She aims at the window. After several tries, she finds her mark. Much to her relief, Alice lifts the window. When she peers down, Doris catches her breath.
Alice is emaciated, frail, and ghost-like. Despite her appearance, Alice hurls questions at Doris. Before she can answer, a guard pounces on Doris pushing her out of earshot. "I’ll lock you up too, if you don’t get out of here, young lady. You’re not fooling anyone."
The next day, an old black man, the caretaker, throws a ladder up against Alice’s window. He climbs up and apologizes to Alice saying it is his job. He has orders to nail boards to her window. As the final board deprives her of light and fresh air, tears stream down Alice’s face.
In the asylum, Alice is strapped to the bed. The moaning and groaning inmates are heart breaking.
Suddenly, a psychiatrist enters Alice’s room. He pulls a chair up, sits down and begins to question her. Though weak, Alice is lucid. She discourses on the meaning of Justice within a Democracy. She quotes the President. The doctor is surprised. This is not what he expected.
When the doctor returns to the White House, he tells the President, "I felt myself in the presence of an unusually gifted personality. Miss Paul is a woman of conviction; confident that Right is on her side, and God, too. Think of Miss Paul," he tells the President, "as you would think of Joan of Arc. She will die, but she will never give up."
The doctor is scarcely out the door, when the President explodes. "I can’t let this trivial issue sway public opinion against me." Edith knows he is right.
Strapped to the bed, Alice prays that women will never ever have to go through this again. Quite unexpectedly, a newspaperman is let into her room. He is surprised to see the restraints, but begins to ask Miss Paul a lot of questions.
Alice knows David Lawrence is the President’s man. When he asks what it would take for her to give up her tactics, Alice tells him nothing short of an amendment enfranchising American women. American women are as entitled to vote as American men.
The reporter urges her to give up the theatrics. She tells him the hunger strike will be over when the administration treats us as political prisoners. "Impossible!" He says, "It would be easier to give you the vote than to treat you as political prisoners."
That night Alice goes to sleep with a smile on her face.
A few days later, suddenly and without explanation, the government releases all the prisoners.
The women celebrate in a colorful mass meeting at Belasco Theater adjacent to the White House. As the President and First Lady leave the White House grounds in their new limo, they cannot ignore the overflow crowd that has gathered to pay homage to Alice Paul and her fellow prisoners.
The theater is packed to the rafters. Ninety-one prisoners, dressed in white and carrying tri-colored flags and gold-lettered banners, march down the center of the aisle toward the stage. Known as the "Prison Specialists" they wear reproductions of their prison garb and carry a sign that reads: Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.
The celebration turns into a fundraiser when $86,000 is pledged. Two touching contributions move the audience: one of 50 cents, the other of 30 cents, arrives by messenger from Occoquan Workhouse because "…the strange ladies helped us so much here."
Dudley takes the stage and presents each prisoner with a tiny silver replica of a cell door. When Alice’s name is called, the audience leaps to its feet, applauding.
Later that night, while Alice and Lucy plot the party’s congressional strategy, Dudley asks Doris to marry him. Doris accepts and tells him that she will never be a passive housewife. He tells her he loves her just the way she is.
At the White House, the President fears Alice’s strategy will give the Republicans credit for the passage of the Amendment. He calls to the White House his prominent Democratic supporters and declares his support for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
The New York Times calls the President’s shift "a surprise."
The President says he has been persuaded by the need to reward women for their work on the war effort. He knows how hard women are working for the nation. His daughter Margaret donates the proceeds from her singing to the Red Cross. Eleanor supervises a Red Cross storeroom. And Edith? She’s turned the White House into a model of wartime sacrifice.
She and the President observe meatless days and make sacrifices just like everybody else. To save the cost of cutting the lawn, Edith borrows a flock of Shropshire sheep from a Virginia farm. The profit from the 98 pounds of wool collected is donated to the states and designated for the war effort. In Kansas two pounds of White House wool brings in five thousand dollars. In total, the wool will fetch fifty thousand dollars.
January 10, 1918. Alice and co-workers take front row seats in the Gallery of the House of Representatives. Voting is about to begin on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Edith’s expression turns frosty when she sees National Women’s Party members take their places in the balcony. Alice’s secret poll shows they are two votes short.
Applause breaks out and heads turn to the Speaker’s door as old Congressman Mann walks in trembling, aided by a cane and caretaker. He looks as if he is at death’s door. Alice had counted him out because he had been bedridden for so long. Doris slips into a seat next to Alice and grabs her hand; "Well-done my dear, well done, but I fear we are still going be one short."
But she is wrong. When the 274th vote is cast in favor of suffrage, a cry of joy echoes in the halls and spills outside where crowds celebrate the news. Outside the gallery, a woman begins to sing, Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow and song fills these hallowed marble halls.
Though the ladies are elated, Miss Paul corrals her troops and tells them, "This is no time to celebrate. This victory is worthless unless we can convince 64 Senators to vote for the amendment. "We can’t assume," Alice says, "just because the President supported passage of the amendment in the House, doesn’t mean he will also use his influence in the Senate."
Alice calls a halt to all the dramatic actions against the President and instead pressures recalcitrant Senators. She buttonholes Senators and lobbies Republicans to vote for the amendment so they could take the credit for its passage. She dispatches delegates to the states to urge voters to pressure their Senators.
At Headquarters, an army of stenographers works day and night. Press conferences are a daily happening. The lobbying campaign yields nine of the eleven votes needed.
Only the President, Alice figures, can muster the last votes. She bombards him with phone calls, letters and delegations.
At the eleventh hour, Wilson gives in and goes to the Senate to urge support the passage of a federal amendment. He asks for its passage as a war measure, assuring the Senators that the voices of the foolish and intemperate don’t influence him. But everyone knows why he is there.
The amendment is defeated. Alice isn’t surprised. The President has waited too long and didn’t put his heart into it.
Before the Senate recesses, Alice leads a group to the Capitol. They wear black armbands to commemorate the death of Justice in the United States Senate. They are arrested but the charges are dismissed.
At the war’s end in November of 1918, President Wilson announces he will go to Europe to work personally on the details of the peace agreement. Alice tells reporters, "When the President and Mrs. Wilson leave for the Peace Conference in Paris, and he will still hear our voices, even in Paris."
The President sails for Europe to negotiate the peace. He presents himself as the Champion of Liberty. At home Alice works to set the record straight and plans a new dramatic action.
On Christmas, 1918, Alice spends the day in bed, thinking and planning. She comes up with a new idea she calls "Watch fires of Freedom."
WATCHFIRES OF FREEDOM
On New Year’s Day a large urn and load of wood, sent from every state in the union, are deposited at the Whites House pavement in line with the front door.
A bell at Headquarters tolls and a large group of women march to the urn.
Alice Paul lights a fire in an urn and announces, "Every time the President makes a speech for Democracy abroad, we will toll a bell and burn his words at home."
Mrs. Lawrence Lewis reads the words Wilson recently spoke at Buckingham Palace, "We have used the words "right" and "justice", and now we are to prove whether or not we understand these words."
A group of soldiers and sailors rush forward, overturn the urn, and try to stamp out the blazing wood.
Suddenly there is an exclamation from the crowd and everyone turns to see flames come from a huge bronze urn in Lafayette Square directly opposite the bonfire. Hazel Hunkins, clinging to the high-pedestal urn, is holding the suffrage colors. Policemen rushed in and arrest her, Alice Paul and three others. In the meantime, the fire in front of the White House is rebuilt.
Briefly detained at the station, Alice and her compatriots are released and return to stand guard over their watch fire through the night.
Though this is the first of many fires kindled by the Woman’s Party, it is the last time the women will be released. Scores of women will be incarcerated; many will go on a hunger strike.
Though these actions embarrass the President and hurt his peace efforts, Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party will not let up. On February 9th, they make another dramatic move.
A bell tolls at Headquarters and Alice leads a procession of a hundred women to Lafayette Monument. A slight mist and the dying sun make their colorful banners look like soft sails. The procession carries lighted torches. The crowd is silent, awe-struck. Alice kindles a fire in an urn and burns a black and white sketch of the President, pointing out that every Anglo-Saxon government in the world except the United States has enfranchised its women. Alice is grabbed by a policeman and thrown into a police wagon. All the women are arrested.
In Paris, after a hard day’s negotiating, the President receives the news. Edith is aghast at Alice’s newest outrage: burning her husband in effigy. A cable arrives from Margaret begging her father to put his full support behind the Amendment before Republicans take credit for what is surely coming. The vote is evenly divided in the Senate, she reports. The President, his face twitching painfully, fears Alice’s new tactics will discredit his effort to secure a just and lasting peace. The President summons Senator Harris, who is in Italy, to Paris and asks him, as a personal favor, to vote for the amendment.
While the issue is being passionately debated in caucus, Harris’ pro-vote arrives by wire. Just as in the House, the Amendment passes by the exact number needed and The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any other state on account of sex. Motion picture cameras are there to record the event.
At Headquarters, when confirmation comes Doris remarks, "This seems such a dull ending to such a dramatic struggle." "End!" Alice barks. "This isn’t the end. We must get 36 out of our 48 states to ratify the amendment. We can’t vote yet. Our work is laid out for us."
While Alice Paul and the national Women’s Party focus their attention on the states, Wilson returns from Europe with a peace plan.
Congress is cool to his idea and criticism of Wilson mounts in Washington. Despite Dr. Grayson’s warning, the President takes his grand vision to the people. Hoping to gather support, he whistle-stops across the country. Alice’s troops are at every stop to point out the discrepancies in the President’s rhetoric. This infuriates Edith.
By September of 1919, the President’s grueling schedule takes its toll. First, the President stumbles through a speech in Utah. His trembling hands, gray color and halting speech give Edith a terrible premonition. Then one evening while traveling through Pueblo, Colorado, Woodrow suffers a paralytic stroke and is incapacitated.
In an ironic twist, the First Lady, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, takes the reins of power, orders the train back to Washington and throws a curtain up around her husband.
From now on Edith stands between the President and his most trusted advisors. She is the only means of communication with the President. From the dreary executive wing where Wilson lies paralyzed, Edith administers the most powerful government in the world.
The President’s signature bears so little resemblance to what it had looked like before that many believe she is forging his name. Edith claims the discrepancy is because the President lacks a hard surface for writing.
The President’s faithful secretary, Joseph Tumulty, is slow to realize that Edith is keeping him from the President. Colonel House, on the other hand, sees the truth immediately. After all those years of serving the President, Colonel House never sees Wilson again. And Tumulty only gets a remote glimpse of the man he once served so faithfully. Edith’s charade is made possible with the help of Dr. Grayson.
To keep the charade going, Edith props her husband up in the window each afternoon. That is as close as anyone can get to him. Meantime, Edith ignores the gossip about a "petticoat government" and takes charge, firing a Cabinet member who challenges her authority.
Word spreads that Edith Wilson is running the government.
At Headquarters as well as in the nation’s newspapers, the First Lady is referred to as the "presidentress". Alice doesn’t believe the rumors are true. She will not be distracted from her mission.
Thirty-five states have ratified, one to go. She decides to pay the President a call, intending to convince him to use his persuasive voice to secure the last state
When Alice arrives at the White House, she states she will not leave until the President sees her. Rather than create a scene, Edith sees her.
There is a quiet but intense difference of opinion. Each woman makes herself perfectly clear. Alice says her freedom fighters will not be stopped. The showdown will be in Tennessee. Edith is confident that a southern state like Tennessee will never ratify.
In Tennessee, Alice pressures the Governor and threatens to defeat his party in the coming elections unless he uses his political muscle to urge other Democratic heavies to support the amendment. One beautiful, long red rose arrives for the Governor. It is the red rose of the anti-suffragists. Edith has sent one to her old friend, Governor Roberts.
As the vote approaches, the main hotel in Nashville is bursting with pro, and anti-suffrage forces from all over the nation. Although Tennessee is a dry state, there are a lot of red-nosed, jovial legislators who strut about exalting the male who has always protected the female.
Alice sets up her Headquarters in the middle of the hotel’s lobby. The purple, gold and white of suffrage clash with the ruby red rose of the "antis."
Someone remarks the "presidentress" is a suffragist’s dream come true. Alice is not amused.
There are rumors of bribes and filibusters. Mysterious men with briefcases huddle in corners. Legislators are hustled into elevators by aides and carried to the 8th floor where there is a loud, boisterous party for men only. A bartender dispenses moonshine. Dudley overhears two men plot to kidnap a pro-Senator. Another group schemes to cross the state line so they’d be unable to muster a quorum.
In the lobby, Doris and others keep Alice apprised of what is going on. They are all agreed that only one more vote is needed. The most likely candidate they think is the youngest legislator, Harry Burns. But Harry sports the red rose of the antis. Doris tells Alice that Harry’s mother is an ardent suffragist.
Alice calls on Mrs. Burns. She tells the young Congressmen’s mother that Harry is under tremendous pressure from the Party to vote against ratification. Mrs. Burns says, "I know. Harry-boy is all riled up over the threats some folks are making. He wants a political career real bad. But he’s a good boy. I think he’ll do what’s right."
Mrs. Burns, however, is concerned about another matter and says, "You know, Miss Paul, I wonder if getting the vote will really solve our problems."
Mrs. Burns tell s Alice her father, recently deceased, lived in New York and left his estate to her, his only daughter. The problem, she tells Alice, is that she is married and lives in Tennessee. Under Tennessee law, she does not have the right to inherit. The money went to her husband.
"No, it is true," Alice, tells her, "voting will not solve that problem. A federal amendment is the first step and we must move heaven and earth to make sure Tennessee ratifies."
"Well, don’t you worry about my boy, Harry," Mrs. Burns tells Alice.
Alice isn’t so confident. Threats are threats and if the boy sincerely wants to be a politician he might well vote with the antis.
Will he or won’t he becomes the overriding question of the day.
August 18, 1920. Voting day. Alice and her cohorts escort each and every pro Senator to the Legislature to thwart any kidnapping plans the "antis" might have. One Senator doesn’t know what to make of his escort but Doris assures him it is for their own protection.
When Alice spies Harry Burns in the corridor, her face falls. Harry wears the red rose of the opposition.
The floor and the gallery of the Tennessee State Legislature are dotted with red roses. Alice and Doris note that 96 of 99 Senators are present. A motion is made to table the suffrage resolution. An angry cry goes up from the floor. The Speaker bangs his gavel and orders the women off the floor and into the balcony. There is an intense stillness.
One by one, the Senators cast their votes. Alice sees a page deliver a note to Harry Burns. When it’s Harry’s turn, he stands, takes off his red rose and puts it on the table and declares loudly and clearly yes, for ratification.
An uproar of enthusiasm greets Harry’s vote. Alice, Doris, Dudley and the rest of the gang are ecstatic. They hug and kiss co-workers.
Dudley remarks, "It’s too bad so much energy and suffering had to be expended for so simple a right."
The Speaker tries to restore order. After the final vote is cast Alice and the others leave the Chamber. A reporter runs up to Miss Paul, and asks if she has a statement to make on this momentous occasion.
"When Tennessee ratified the 15th amendment today," she tells him, "twenty-six million American women acquired exactly the same power at the ballot box as their husbands and brothers have."
Someone yells from the crowd, "You did it, Miss Paul." Alice shakes her head humbly, "No. You did it. You proved we are a government of the people. The triumph is yours.
We transition to the retirement community. The sun is setting. Jess wants to know what happened to everyone?
Doris tells her, "Well, Woodrow Wilson died in 1924. He never did recover from his stroke.
"And the First Lady? She died in 1961. She refused to vote right up till the end. Your grandfather, rest his soul, and I used to get a big chuckle out of that.
"And Miss Paul, well, she knew Mrs. Burns was right. Getting the vote certainly didn’t solve all the problems women faced.
"Headquarters was as busy as ever. I remember a funny Texas case Alice Paul worked on after the Amendment passed. A woman, I don’t remember her name, had been elected to office in Texas, but she needed her husband’s permission to take office. Things like that rankled Alice. The idea that a woman couldn’t inherit made her furious. So one day, she just sat down and drafted another amendment to the Constitution that she thought would solve the problem once and for all. She called it the Equal Rights Amendment. It simply said, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or any other State on account of sex."