In honor of Women’s History Month, Representative Gloria Fox hosted a screening of the movie Iron Jawed Angels and panel discussion with Renee Dabbs from the National Foundation for Women Legislators, Fredie Kay from the League of Women Voters and Mary Tuitt, Chief of Staff to Representative Fox. The audience was reminded that women are 53% of the U.S. population. Women are not a special interest.
Iron Jawed Angels is the award-winning film that tells the story of Alice Paul, the National Women’s Party (NWP), and the campaign by militant suffragettes to win the right to vote for women. As part of the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Alice Paul and others formed the Congressional Union, a semi-autonomous group to work specifically on passing a Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote despite the objections of NAWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt, who preferred to work on a state by state level. The Congressional Union split from NAWSA and became the National Women’s Party, possibly one of the earliest political action committees in the United States.
The NWP organized “Silent Sentinels” who stood vigil outside the White House from January 10, 1917 until June 4, 1919 when the 19th Amendment passed the U.S. Congress and was sent to the states for ratification. More than 1000 women stood in silent protest holding banners with messages such as “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty? and “We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest to our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.” (quotation from President Woodrow Wilson). During their two and a half year protest, 213 women were arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse, a prison in Virginia. Iron Jawed Angels dramatizes the horrific conditions at Occoquan. In actuality, conditions at Occoquan were worse than depicted The Night of Terror, November 15, 1917. During their time in Occoquan, Alice Paul and others began a hunger strike and the government unsuccessfully attempted to have her declared insane. “In women, courage is often mistaken for insanity”.
When word of the maltreatment was smuggled out of the prison to the newspapers, all the women were released on November 27 and 28, 1917. In March 1918, the Court of Appeals declared that the arrests, trials, and imprisonments of the suffragettes were unconstitutional.
The term “iron jawed angels” was coined by anti-suffragette Congressman Joseph Walsh of Massachusetts who referred to the protesters as “bewildered, deluded creatures with short skirts and short hair”.
Massachusetts ratified the 19th Amendment on June 26th.
The film ends with the 19th Amendment being ratified by one vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives on August 18, 1920.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
For more information on the film Iron Jawed Angels: Iron Jawed Angels - Lesson Plans from Movies and Film - Women's Suffrage; Alice Paul, National Women's Party.
Written by Caucus Intern Palma McLaughlin