Library of Congress > Collections > Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party

Historical Overview of the National Womans Party

The origins of the National Woman's Party (NWP) date from 1912, when Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, young Americans schooled in the militant tactics of the British suffrage movement, were appointed to the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) Congressional Committee. They injected a renewed militancy into the American campaign and shifted attention away from state voting rights toward a federal suffrage amendment.

At odds with NAWSA over tactics and goals, Paul and Burns founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) in April 1913, but remained on NAWSA’s Congressional Committee until December that year. Two months later, NAWSA severed all ties with the CU.

The CU continued its aggressive suffrage campaign. Its members held street meetings, distributed pamphlets, petitioned and lobbied legislators, and organized parades, pageants, and speaking tours. In June 1916 the CU formed the NWP, briefly known as the Woman’s Party of Western Voters. The CU continued in states where women did not have the vote; the NWP existed in western states that had passed women’s suffrage. In March 1917 the two groups reunited into a single organization–the NWP.

In January 1917 the CU and NWP began to picket the White House. The government’s initial tolerance gave way after the United States entered World War I. Beginning in June 1917, suffrage protestors were arrested, imprisoned, and often force-fed when they went on hunger strikes to protest being denied political prisoner status.

The NWP’s militant tactics and steadfast lobbying, coupled with public support for imprisoned suffragists, forced President Woodrow Wilson to endorse a federal woman suffrage amendment in 1918. Congress passed the measure in 1919, and the NWP began campaigning for state ratification. Shortly after Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify women’s suffrage, the 19th Amendment was signed into law on August 26, 1920.

Once suffrage was achieved, the NWP focused on passing an Equal Rights Amendment. The party remained a leading advocate of women’s political, social, and economic equality throughout the 20th century.

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