One of the most shocking episodes is referred to as ‘The Night of Terror’.The Silent Sentinels were organized by Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party to peacefully protest in front of the White House during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Thousands of different women picketed day and night except for Sundays, and many were arrested during this vigil. The Night of Terror happened November 14, 1917, when thirty-three of the protesters were attacked by forty-four club-wielding men. These men beat, kicked, dragged and choked their charges, and then dragged them off to jail to brutalize them some more. Lucy Burns- already badly beaten – was handcuffed to the bars of her cell with her arms above her head. Later on, affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
This was just the start of these women’s suffering. They were allowed no visitors, so that word of their treatment couldn’t get out to the public. They were fed rancid food, stale water, and were subjected to forced feeding if they tried to start a hunger strike. Woodrow Wilson and his supporters in Congress tried to have the ringleaders institutionalized for insanity.
Finally, the media got a hold of the story of how the protesters were being mistreated. The stories enraged America, and the political tide began to turn in favour of the protesters and against the Wilson government. This created more support for the suffrage amendment. Finally, on November 27 and 28, all the protesters were released, after spending weeks in prison.
Later, in March 1918, the D. C. Court of Appeals declared all the suffrage arrests, trials, and punishments had been unconstitutional. This escalated the bad feeling towards the government. As tensions grew, President Wilson realized something had to be done quickly to end the situation. He requested that Congress convene for a special session in May 1919, and they finally passed an amendment giving women the vote. It took a few more years for the states to ratify the amendment, but the battle was won in the end. American suffragettes were just as important to women’s rights as the British suffragettes (and the rest of the world).
Women’s suffrage was an international issue. Women were never going to be given any rights, in the same way no one wanted to give rights to slaves. So, when I write about suffragettes, they are not meek women. They were tough and brave, they knew the risks they were taking, and took them anyway. So I characterize my suffragettes as courageous, dedicated and intelligent women – just like they would have been in real life – no matter what country they may hail from.