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Iron jawed angels: in 1917, the U.S. went to war to save democracy in Europe. But in America, women could not vote. Alice Paul and courageous women like her campaigned to change that.


Alice Paul, woman suffrage activist

Lucy Burns, woman suffrage activist

Ruza Wenclawska, an immigrant garment worker


Senator Leighton

Emily Leighton, his wife Carrie Chapman Cart, former president, National American Woman Suffrage Association

President Woodrow Wilson

Mabel, woman suffrage activist


Whittaker, prison warden

Dr. White, prison doctor

Page, Tennessee legislature

Harry Burn, Tennessee Representative

Narrators A-F

Names in red are leading roles.

Adapted by Jonathan Blum from the HBO screenplay.


It is the winter of 1913. Women have been organizing for the right to vote since the 1840s, but they can vote in only nine states, Some suffrage leaders believe the right to vote can be gradually won state-by-state. But Alice Paul and Lucy Burns aren't willing to wait that long. They want a constitutional amendment giving women the vote throughout the United States. They go to Washington, D.C., to build support for an amendment.


Narrator A: Alice Paul and Lucy Burns plan a protest parade for the weekend of President-elect Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. To publicize the event, Patti talks to a reporter.

Reporter: What do you think women will do when they can vote? Reform politics?

Alice Paul: They'll do good and bad things, just like men. The point is that women are called citizens, and yet they are taxed without representation. They're not allowed to serve on juries, so they're not tried by their peers. They don't make the laws, yet they have to obey them, like children.

Narrator A: That same day, at a clothing factory, Burns and Paul urge workers to take part in the parade.

Lucy Burns: A thousand women marching means more than 10,000 signatures on a piece of paper. Marching shows the politicians that women are united in their demand for political equality--

Ruza Wenclawska: If we take off Sunday to march for you, we get fired on Monday! Got kids, missus? They don't eat ballots.

Paul: If you want a voice, you need the right to vote. Otherwise, no one hears you.

Narrator A: Wenclawska and the other workers agree to march. That week at a social gathering, Burns meets Emily Leighton, a Senator's wife.

Burns: Have you heard about our parade?

Emily Leighton (smiling apologetically): I don't really follow politics, Miss Burns. I haven't the head for it.

Burns: Either we're citizens or we're chattel (movable property, like a car or horse). You don't need a degree from Harvard to understand that.

Narrator A: Emily's husband leads her away. Inauguration Weekend comes. Protesters carry banners along Pennsylvania Avenue. Hecklers yell at them. As President Wilson's car drives by, a minor riot breaks out. Police do not protect the protesters. A hundred are injured. News coverage increases public sympathy for the suffrage movement.


Narrator B: The next year, 1914, the U.S. Senate votes on a suffrage amendment--and rejects it. Senator Leighton goes home to his family.

Emily Leighton (hesitantly Why did the Senate reject the amendment?

Sen. Leighton (teasing): Because we know you ladies have your hands full with the kids already.

Narrator B: Soon after the vote, Paul starts a weekly magazine, The Suffragist. Her editorials attack the Democratic Party for turning its back on women.

Paul (writing): Rarely in the history of the country has a party been more powerful than the Democratic Party is today. It controls the Executive Office, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. It is in a position to give us effective and immediate help. But President Wilson does nothing.

Narrator B: The editorials upset Carrie Chapman Catt, an influential leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She visits Paul and Burns to express her concern.

Carrie Chapman Cart: You may not fund a Democratic Party boycott with NAWSA contributions! The Democrats have always supported us.

Burns: Then let them show it.

Catt: Unity and loyalty. That's where we women get our strength. The opposition would like nothing more than to see us divided.

Paul: We should unite against the opposition.

Catt: President Wilson is not the opposition.

Paul (quietly): Then who is? If he were on our side, we could get an amendment past Congress, and that's a fact.

Narrator B: Paul forms what will become the National Woman's Party (NWP), devoted solely to passing a suffrage amendment. Emily Leighton sends contributions monthly. When her husband finds out, he commands her to stop.


Narrator C: With war raging in Europe, President Wilson runs for re-election in 1916--and wins. He says that now is not the time to fight for a constitutional amendment. During the winter of 1917, NWP members begin picketing the White House every day, often in freezing weather. That April, President Wilson asks Congress to declare war against Germany.

Wilson: We shall fight for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.

Narrator C: At NWP headquarters, Ruza Wenclawska snorts.

Wenclawska: Wilson's going to fight for democracy in Europe?

Burns: He can't fight for democracy abroad and deny it here at home.

Narrator C: Mabel, an NWP member, weighs in.

Mabel: We can't picket a wartime President. It's treason.

Burns: Treason is betraying your country. Petitioning isn't treason.

Mabel: This is my country, and I'm going to do everything I can to support it.

Wenclawska: Do everything you want to. Roll bandages for the soldiers. But do it on the picket line!

Mabel (agreeing): I'll join you.

Narrator C: Outside the White House, the women carry a banner, quoting Wilson: "We shall fight for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments."


Narrator D: A few days later, police arrest the picketers, charging them with obstructing traffic. Dozens of women, including Burns, are sent to a prison workhouse. Burns tells the warden she has the right to see a lawyer.

Whittaker: No visitors.

Burns: Watch how you treat us. This is America. You don't make the laws.

Whittaker: In here I make the laws. You understand?

Burns: We're not guilty of any crime. We're political prisoners.

Narrator D: Guards drag Burns and others into tiny brick cells. They are fed hot cereal with maggots. Meanwhile, Paul continues to picket the White House. One day, opponents spit at the marchers and shout.

Opponents: Traitors!

Narrator D: A banner is pulled down. Rioting breaks out. Paul, Emily Leighton, and other picketers appear before a judge in court.

Paul: I am not here because I obstructed (blocked) traffic, but because I pointed out to the President that he is obstructing democracy.

Judge (banging his gavel). To prison with you! Six months!

Narrator D: In prison, Paul refuses to eat. She is locked in a psychiatric ward. A doctor sees her.

Dr. While: Why do you refuse to eat?

Paul: The hunger strike was a tradition in old Ireland. You starve yourself on someone's doorstep until restitution (making good on an injury) is made and justice is done.

Dr. White: So you think the President has treated you that badly?

Paul: It's the law that treats women badly.

Dr. White: Explain the suffragette cause.

Paul: Look into your own heart. I swear, mine's no different. You want a place in the trades and the professions, where you can earn your bread? So do I. You want some way of satisfying your personal ambitions? So do I. You want a voice in your government? So do I.

Narrator D: Dr. White reports that Paul is not insane and that she is prepared, like the patriot Patrick Henry, to die for her cause. Thirty women prisoners begin hunger strikes. Prison officials force-feed raw eggs to Paul and the others by putting iron gags into their mouths and forcing tubes down their throats. The women struggle, nearly choking.


Narrator E: A short while later, New York State gives women the vote. Publicity for the movement is stronger than ever. The imprisoned women are released. At last, in 1919, at President Wilson's urging, Congress passes a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. But three fourths of the states must ratify (approve) the amendment for it to become law.

On August 18, 1920, NWP volunteers wait to see if the last state--Tennessee--will vote for or against the amendment. Representative Harry Burn, who is wearing a red rose, the symbol of the amendment's opponents, is handed a telegram.

Page: Telegram, sir. It's from your mother.

Harry Burn (reads the telegram): "Don't forget to be a good boy, Harry ... and do the right thing."

Narrator E: Burn removes the red rose, then announces ...

Burn: I vote yea.

Narrator E: On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment becomes law. The right to vote is now guaranteed for 20 million American women--and for countless generations to come.

Think About It

1. Is it wrong to oppose the President during wartime? Explain.

2. How different would the U.S. be today if women ware unable to vote?


Students should understand

* U.S. women were not allowed to vote (except in a few states) until the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920.


Ask students to name prominent women in government, business, athletics, science, or other professions. What qualities do these leaders share?


After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Alice Paul continued working with the National Woman's Party and, in 1923, was the first to propose a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for men and women. Paul successfully lobbied for references to women's equality in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Lucy Burns retired from political life after 1920.


MAKING CONNECTIONS: Why did some women not support the suffragist cause? (Some women feared they would lose their jobs if they left work to join the suffragists. Others lacked the self-awareness to believe that women should have the same rights as men.)

COMPARE AND CONTRAST: How did the NAWSA and the NWP differ? (Carrie Chapman Catt, leader of the NAWSA, believed the right to vote could he won state by state, and by cooperating with Democratic Party officials. The NWP viewed this approach as too slow and opted instead to stage public demonstrations to pressure political leaders for a constitutional amendment to grant women voting rights across the U.S.


VOTING RIGHTS PAMPHLET: Ask students to imagine they are living in 1920 America and to decide if they would support the woman suffrage movement. Instruct students to write and illustrate pamphlets that argue for or against granting women voting rights.



* Time, continuity, and change: How most U.S. women were denied voting rights until 1920.

* Individual identity and development: How Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and other women became important societal leaders despite their lack of political and legal rights.


* Nash, Carol Rust, The Fight for Women's Right to Vote in American History (Enslow Publishers, 1998). Grades 5-8

* Matthews, Glenna, American Women's History (Oxford University Press, 2000). Grades 7-8.


* National Women's History Museum

* Center for American Women and Politics
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Title Annotation:American History Play
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 9, 2004
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