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Exhibition Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote

Surviving Prison and Protecting Civil Liberties

At 4:30 that afternoon he returned, forced a tube down my throat without making any examination of my heart and swiftly poured down a pint of cold milk and eggs. I vomited in the midst of the feeding but he paid no attention.

—Elizabeth McShane, 1917

Suffrage prisoners, most of whom came from sheltered, privileged backgrounds, endured dark, unsanitary, rat-infested conditions and contaminated food. They were manhandled, forced to perform prison labor, and intentionally incarcerated with the general prison population. Their mail was often withheld, and when they began hunger strikes, they were brutally force-fed. Alice Paul was threatened with transfer to an insane asylum. The harsh treatment of the prisoners became its own story, turning public opinion in favor of the suffragists as they toured the country to share personal accounts of their imprisonment. Although many of them could have easily paid the fines, they chose prison sentences on principle and in defense of civil liberties. By the end of the campaign, 168 NWP members had served time in prison.