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Penn[sylvania] on the picket line-- 1917.

[Detail] Penn[sylvania] on the picket line-- 1917

1912-1914: Mass Demonstrations and Formation of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage

By the turn of the twentieth century, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had developed a strategy of securing a woman’s right to vote in municipal elections and seeking full suffrage through state constitutions. This strategy of focusing on state efforts reduced the association’s Congressional Committee to relative obscurity until revitalized by the appointment of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns as joint chairs of the Committee in December 1912. Paul and Burns first met in England, where they had both been jailed for participating in demonstrations organized by the Women’s Social and Political Union. Both women had been influenced by the radicalism of British suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

Paul and Burns organized a massive suffrage parade as the first effort of the newly revitalized NAWSA’s Congressional Committee. The parade was planned for March 3, 1913, on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Women also held open-air meetings in conjunction with the parade. Look at the photos listed below and the full captions and Notes to learn more about this event:

Use your analysis of the photos and accompanying information to answer the following questions:

  • Describe the woman at the head of the parade. What did her appearance symbolize? Do you think this was an effective way to start the parade?
  • How did onlookers respond to the parade?
  • Why might the organizers of the parade have planned open-air meetings to be held at the same time? Why might women from prominent families be effective speakers at such meetings?
  • Despite the success of the parade, the leadership of NAWSA feared that Paul and Burns would alienate supporters by endorsing the radical tactics of the British movement. Why do you think leaders of NAWSA were fearful that massive demonstrations on behalf of woman suffrage would hinder the movement? Is there any photographic evidence to support their position?

Paul and Burns, although they continued to serve as chairs of the Congressional Committee, formed a new organization known as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. Although distinct from the Congressional Committee, its directors and members of the executive board were the same. The Congressional Union lobbied elected officials and gave notice to the Democratic Party, which had control of the executive and legislative branches, that it would hold them responsible for congressional inaction on suffrage. NAWSA leaders confronted Paul and Burns with an ultimatum that they divorce themselves from the Congressional Union and abandon threats to hold the Democratic Party responsible for failure to secure a suffrage amendment in order to retain their positions in NAWSA’s Congressional Committee. Paul and Burns refused.