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How the English Suffragettes Helped Radicalize Us | International Women's Day

SO, women getting the vote in 1920 was a long process involving a lot of work that had been in motion since the early 1800s, but let's ignore the entire 19th century and jump forward to the early 20th when things began to move REAL FAST until the monumental achievement of the 19th amendment, i.e. some recognition that women are people. Which shouldn't be monumental, but HERE WE ARE.

Leslie Knope, where are you now

A big part of the movement picking up so much speed in the 1910s was the influence of the radical English suffragettes on the American women's movement. American suffragists never quite reached the live-free-or-die mentality of the English suffragettes, but they became much more "take to the streets" than they had been since the time the women of the temperance movement went to pray in front of saloons.

look, this was a bold action for back then

English women had basically been told to "hang on for a sec while we do this other thing" by the British government for DECADES, and anyone who's been put on hold right after hearing that phrase knows that every moment is maddening. By the turn of the century, the women of England had decided up with this they would not put. And they...started throwing things. Very literally.

suffragettes with smashed window

English suffragettes poured acid on golf courses, proclaiming there would be no golf until they had the vote; they threw bombs; they were dangerous. Which is why Scotland Yard had photograph sets made for their detectives to be able to identify particularly militant members of the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union, i.e. Emmeline Pankhurst's women's rights organization):

While American women overall deplored the violent tactics taken by their English counterparts, in the middle of all this radical action came Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, future co-founders of the National Woman's Party in the U.S.

Paul and Burns were both Americans who came to England in the early 1900s and were moved by WSPU speeches to such an extent that they joined the movement. They were arrested after climbing around on buildings, interrupting government meetings, and generally causing a nuisance (is how I assume the British charges would read). 

I love all these slogans with the strength of a thousand very large polar bears

They took what they learned back with them to America, where they revitalized a movement run by older moderate women and, whether on purpose or no, began a double-pronged move to push for women's suffrage from both conservative and radical ends of the spectrum. As with most social justice movements, this encouraged the government to deal with the "conservative" branch, where before they might have ignored the movement entirely. 

Paul and Burns organized the 1913 women's march on Washington, or the "suffrage parade," where thousands of women marched for the vote (and where Ida B. Wells was awkwardly informed by Paul that she would have to march in a segregated section, whereupon Ms Wells said absolutely not and marched with the women of Illinois). They also organized one of the more recognizable protests of the movement – the Silent Sentinels. These women stood in front of Woodrow Wilson's White House six days a week from 1917 to 1919 when the 19th Amendment passed the House and Senate. They were the first organization to picket the White House and photographs of that time still resonate strongly concerning those women's sacrifice of their day-to-day safety, liberty (they were periodically arrested or attacked by mobs), and time with family. 

Paul and Burns's tactics learned in England made the fight for suffrage much, much more visible, and much more discussed in America than it would have been otherwise, thereby making it get passed all the sooner. It's one way of very many that women of one country have helped another. On International Women's Day, it's heartening to look back on examples like this, while not forgetting to look for ways we can implement it in our own time. One can hope that national borders and jingoistic sentiment will not ever make us forget our common bonds of humanity and in recognition of those, to always be there to offer a helping hand wherever it is needed.

well done, sister suffragettes


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