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Formed in 1916 by American suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) fought for women’s suffrage. The NWP members were known for their Silent Sentinels vigil outside the White House between 1917 and 1919 to push for a constitutional amendment enfranchising women in the U.S.
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Key Facts & Information
ORIGINS OF THE NWP
- In 1907, American Alice Paul moved to England to study. She became involved with the Women’s Suffrage Political Union (WSPU), founded by suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and met another American, Lucy Burns.
- In 1910, Paul and Burns returned to the U.S. and joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Upon their appointment to the Congressional Committee of the NAWSA, Paul and Burns organized the first national women’s suffrage parade, a day before the inauguration of newly elected U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in March 1913.
- Attended by about 8,000 women, the parade was led by Inez Milholland, who wore an all-white robe and a golden crown. Milholland was atop a white horse and was followed by a wagon with a banner reading, “We demand an amendment to the Constitution of the United States enfranchising the women of this country.”
- The parade faced violent reactions from the crowd. Despite the lack of assistance from the DC police, women in the parade were aided by the Massachusetts National Guard, the boys of Maryland Agricultural College, and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
- After the incident, Paul and Burns left the NAWSA and founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in April 1913. Many believed that the split was due to NAWSA’s slower approach in pursuing the amendment. At the time, the NAWSA focused on individual state referendums rather than a congressional amendment, Paul and Burns’ goal.
- Moreover, Paul had a conflict with the NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt regarding the movement’s tactics. Influenced by the WSPU, Paul believed in more militant tactics. Catt opposed radical strategies that Paul and Burns adopted from the British suffragettes.
NOTABLE LEADERS AND MEMBERS OF THE NWP
- In addition to Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, suffragists Mabel Vernon, Mary Bartelme, Nina Allender, and Doris Stevens joined the NWP.
- Paul recruited Mabel Vernon to the NAWSA in 1912. The following year, she joined the march as part of the NAWSA’s Congressional Committee. In the same year, Vernon led the suffrage campaign in Rhode Island, Long Island, and New Jersey.
- On July 4, 1916, as a member of the NWP, Vernon interrupted the speech of President Wilson at the Labor Temple in Washington. She was also one of the main organizers of the Silent Sentinels.
- Mary Bartelme was the first woman to be appointed as a public guardian in Illinois in 1897. In 1916 and 1917, Bartelme served as vice-chair of the NWP.
- Nina Evans Allender was the official cartoonist for The Suffragist, the NWP’s publication. Allender became actively involved in the NAWSA. In 1912, she was appointed chair of the committee on outdoor meetings. Within a year, she headed the District of Columbia Woman Suffrage Association. In 1913, she was recruited by Paul in the NWP. Allender’s first political cartoon was published on June 6, 1914. Throughout her life, Allender produced 287 political cartoons about women’s suffrage. Her works mostly depicted an “Allender girl” image of a young and capable American woman.
- Doris Stevens was a paid regional organizer for the NAWSA. In 1916, she joined the NWP and organized party delegates for Congressional Districts. She participated in the Silent Sentinels in 1917–1919. Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, Stevens wrote the book Jailed for Freedom which detailed the ordeals of the sentinels. When the U.S. officially joined WWI in 1917, Stevens insisted that President Wilson should fight for women’s democracy at home.
TACTICS OF THE NWP
- When the NWP split from NAWSA, many members joined Paul and Burns. Tired of moderate tactics under Catt, former NWP members, mostly young suffragists, believed in more aggressive tactics.
- The NWP approach was more confrontational and militant, including picketing, voluntary imprisonment, civil disobedience, and hunger strikes. They also invested in parades, public speaking, lobbying, and petitions. Paul designed NWP tactics to be more visible and dramatic to draw public and media attention.
- The NWP was a non-partisan group that directly criticized President Wilson and the Democratic Party for refusing to pass the women’s suffrage constitutional amendment. The NWP declined to support the war during WWI, contrasting with the rival NAWSA. As a result, the NWP attracted other groups, including pacifists and socialists.
- While President Wilson advocated democracy abroad, the NWP members picket at the White House, calling the American president a hypocrite. On January 10, 1917, picketers known as Silent Sentinels stood outside the White House while holding women’s suffrage banners. Many called them unpatriotic for refusing to support the war, but the NWP continued to picket until June 1919.
- Picketers were first arrested for disrupting traffic, and they refused to pay the fines and went to prison. Known as the Night of Terror, the sentinels arrested were starved and beaten in prison. To denounce the treatment of their members in prison, Paul and Burns went on hunger strikes. In response, prison authorities force-fed them using long narrow tubes.
- The mistreatment of the NWP members also extended to workhouses. Many faced forced labor, while others were abused and beaten. Stevens revealed the horrible experiences of the suffragists in prisons and workhouses in her memoir.
- In addition to physical and psychological abuse, suffragist prisoners complained about sanitation issues. Prison cells were infested with rats, bedbugs, and worms, which exposed them to diseases. According to Burns, they were served cereal rancid with floating worms. To increase the loneliness and anxiety of the prisoners, they were isolated and prohibited from communicating outside.
- Through constant national and state agitation, the NWP compelled President Wilson to support women’s suffrage. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, which granted all American women the right to vote.
AFTER THE SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
- Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, the NWP focused on the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1923, the NWP regrouped and published the Equal Rights magazine, which aimed to educate men about the benefits of addressing the issues of every American woman.
- After gaining the right to vote, the NWP sought to secure women’s rights in the workplace and other parts of American society. In 1933, the NWP pushed for equal pay. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act, which prohibited differentials based on sex, was passed by Congress. The part prohibiting sex discrimination was added by Virginian Democrat Howard W. Smith, who was a known opponent of the civil rights laws for African Americans.
- In 1964, the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin, established the NWP goals of equality.
- From being a lobbying organization, the NWP became an educational organization in 1997. The new NWP focused on collecting primary documents of the women’s suffrage movement.
- As published in 1913, the official NWP colors were “Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”
- The WSPU used almost the same colors in Britain in 1908. In January 2021, the NWP was dissolved and was replaced with the Alice Paul Institute.
National Woman’s Party Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about National Woman’s Party across 27 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about the National Woman’s Party which was formed in 1916 by American suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to fight for women’s suffrage.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- National Woman’s Party Facts
- NWP Colors
- Women’s Suffrage Societies
- The NWP and WSPU
- Paul and Burns
- Silent Sentinels
- Ladies List
- NWP Tactics
- NWP in WWI
- NWP Legacy
- Issues and Opinions
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