No. of Recommendations: 2
A Sobering Reminder

Courageous Women

Robin Oldfelt wrote: The women were innocent and defenseless. And by
the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards
wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against
the 33 women wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic."

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head
and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an
iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought
Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits
describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming,
pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the "Night of Terror" on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at
the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson
to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow
Wilson's White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their
food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms. When one of the
leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a
chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until
she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was
smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why,
exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote
doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie
Iron Jawed Angels." It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women
waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my
say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the
actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote.

Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege.
Sometimes it was inconvenient. My friend Wendy, who is my age and
studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my
desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. "One
thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie," she said.
"What would those women think of the way I use--or don't use--my right
to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but
those of us who did seek to learn." The right to vote, she said, had
become valuable to her "all over again."

HBO will run the movie periodically before releasing it on video and
DVD. I wish all history, social studies, and government teachers would
include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunko night,
too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual
idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we
should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a
psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be
permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor
refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her
crazy. The doctor admonished the men:

"Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity." On August 26, 1920,
the 19th amendment - 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 - was passed.

Please pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and
vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very
courageous women."

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