A Sobering Reminder Courageous WomenRobin Oldfelt wrote: The women were innocent and defenseless. And bythe end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guardswielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage againstthe 33 women wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic."They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her headand left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against aniron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thoughtLewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavitsdescribe 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 atthe Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lessonto the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket WoodrowWilson's White House for the right to vote.For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Theirfood--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms. When one of theleaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to achair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her untilshe vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word wassmuggled 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 votedoesn't matter? It's raining?Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movieIron Jawed Angels." It is a graphic depiction of the battle these womenwaged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have mysay. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But theactual 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 andstudied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by mydesk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. "Onethought 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 rightto vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, butthose of us who did seek to learn." The right to vote, she said, hadbecome valuable to her "all over again."HBO will run the movie periodically before releasing it on video andDVD. I wish all history, social studies, and government teachers wouldinclude the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunko night,too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usualidea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that weshould be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade apsychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could bepermanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctorrefuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make hercrazy. 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 voteshall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state onaccount of sex - was passed.Please pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out andvote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these verycourageous women."
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