These few paragraphs retell a story about our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. It was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women of which I speak were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive.
Forty prison guards wielding clubs and with their warden's blessing went on a rampage against 33 women convicted, for lack of a better charge, of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women. Realistically, it's not hard to imagine the things that were left unsaid in those same affidavits.
Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on November 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.
For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food-- all of it colorless slop-- was infested with worms. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
So, tell me again, why some women won't vote this year. Because we have car pool duties? We have to get to work? Our lunch hour isn't long enough and we have other errands to run? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?
If you get the chance, watch HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that each and every woman in America can pull the curtain at the polling booth and have her say. Listen as Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she
could be permanently institutionalized. And be inspired when the doctor refuses. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy. "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity," said the doctor. Do we need this film to remind us of the value of voting? Of the cost? Sadly, yes.
Don't ever let the act of voting become something impersonal, something you take for granted. It is not an obligation. It is a privilege. Treat it like one. Treasure the fact that you can vote, revel in your American freedom. 91 years ago, the women in the United States did not have that right, and now we do. When you assume this is the way it should be, or when you think that taking the time to vote is inconvenient, look at the women today, right NOW, in the Middle Eastern countries, in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Then look at us. Be grateful, and use that right well.
Do not make what our foremothers suffered be in vain. Honor them, honor yourselves, and honor your daughters by going out next Tuesday and casting your vote. Because while this is, indeed, the story of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, ultimately, this is the story of US.
Both photographs courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The first photo is of Alice Paul, circa 1901. The second is of Lucy Burns during her imprisonment in the Occoquan Workhouse, November 1917.