Before Gandhi marched for freedom from British rule in India, before the Civil Rights movement developed in the United States, there was a larger and more sustained non-violent protest :  The seventy–two year long Women’s Suffrage Movement in America.

 

Starting in 1848, with the first Women’s Rights Convention to call for legal and voting rights for women, and concluding with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the constitution in 1920, this journey broke new ground in non-violent protest that is rarely acknowledged.

During the entire 72 year long struggle for women’s rights, there was not person killed.

In the 19th century, women seeking changes to laws petitioned the state legislatures, spoke to law makers, wrote pamphlets, and letters to newspapers. They gathered signatures on petitions and delivered them to the legislators.   The women were patient and persistent with these methods.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony protested by voting, claiming the 15th amendment gave her to right to vote and she was arrested. In St. Louis, Virginia Minor tried to vote, and was refused.  She sued the voter registrar, and her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it lost.

Beginning in 1878, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, managed to have a Senator introduce to the U.S. Senate an amendment to the constitution,  granting women the right to vote. It was introduced during the next 19 sessions of congress.

The movement went into the doldrums in the first ten years of the new century.  Two extraordinary leaders emerged to take this movement to the next level, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul.  Catt, sometimes nicknamed “The General” became the leader for the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, or NAWSA, with 2 million members. She was an organizing genius, and had success getting 11 states to give voting rights to women by 1916.  Alice Paul led the fight for a National Amendment, first working within the NAWSA, and then, when tensions arose, breaking off and starting the National Woman’s Party, or NWP. Paul was a public relations genius, garnering publicity for the movement and putting it on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.

Non-violent protest was taken to never before seen heights under Paul’s leadership.  Women suffragists were the first to picket the White House in 1917, using cloth banners.  The protestors were thrown in prison, and, after the women went on a hunger strike, many were force fed. The resulting publicity moved public opinion to the women’s cause, and put pressure on the president.  Eventually President Woodrow Wilson supported a federal amendment giving women the right to vote.

But before the White House banner picketing began, a major non-violent action for women’s suffrage took place in St. Louis, Missouri in 1916.  In that year, over 3000 suffragists converged on Saint Louis in the sweltering heat during the Democratic convention, poised to renominate Woodrow Wilson as President.  Their sole demand was a plank in the party platform in support of women’s suffrage.  Wearing white dresses and gold sashes that said “Votes For Women,” they lined the street where the delegates would walk from their hotel to the convention center.

The impact of these women, who formed a ‘walkless, talkless parade’, sometimes called “The Golden Lane” was enormous.  They did get the plank in the platform and national publicity.

This was more than a milestone in St. Louis history or Women’s Suffrage history.

It was a historical milestone in non-violent political protest.

The League of Women Voters, the Missouri History Museum, and The St. Louis Public Library are presenting a festival to celebrate this important event in the history of American women’s equality.  The event will honor the suffragists of 1916 who made history in Saint Louis 100 years ago.  This modern event, “Celebrate the Vote Festival”  takes place on September 3, 2016 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will include a parade, music, speakers, food, voter registration, and more. Register and get a “Votes for Women” sash or t shirt at their website: www.celebratethevotefestival.com or the Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/CelebratetheVoteFestival/

If you will look at the photo of “The Golden Lane” of 1916, you will notice the picture of the ladies is quite compelling.  The vision for the festival is depicted in the 2016 photo of today’s suffragists. This reflects the intention for the Celebrate the Vote Festival.  It now almost appears that our grandmothers and great grandmothers of 1916 are looking to us, the living, breathing women of 2016 to carry on the work they began a hundred years ago.

Let’s Celebrate Our History!