“Remember the Ladies!”

This is the message Abigail Adams urged on her husband, John Adams, as he sat in the Continental Congress in 1776, deciding upon the course for a new nation.[1]

But the ladies were not remembered in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence, nor in 1787 with the adoption of the new country’s Constitution, nor when the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1870 granting the right to vote to all men, regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

The “ladies” finally took matters into their own hands.

As we observe Constitution Day on September 17 and especially as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963, it behooves us to “Remember the Ladies” who struggled, marched, protested and even went to jail to obtain this most basic civil right for the women of America.

Today, Susan B. Anthony is probably the best-known American suffragist.  After all, she has a U.S. dollar coin in her honor.

Susan B. Anthony Coin

She and her suffragist sisters Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone campaigned tirelessly throughout the second half of the 19th century for women’s right to vote in individual states and before the U.S. Congress.

But by 1900, women had the vote in only four western states. By 1910, the women’s suffrage movement was stagnant.

It took a slight, quiet Quaker woman from New Jersey to turn up the heat.

Alice Paul was a radical. She founded of the National Women’s Party in 1915 after being thrown out of the more conservative National American Women Suffrage Association.  Having learned political protest strategies from the militant suffragettes in England, Paul took the fight for women’s suffrage to the streets.

In March 1913, 28 year old Alice Paul organized a public march in Washington D.C. for the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration. More than eight thousand women and men paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue behind a yellow banner declaring, “We Demand an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States Enfranchising the Women of this Country.”

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Many in the crowd of more than 250,000 mostly men, became ugly, grabbing banners, toppling parade floats and spitting, pinching and groping women marchers.  The police did nothing and the federal cavalry had to be called to restore order in the city.[2]

Paul and her suffragists used cross-country automobile caravans, railroad whistle stop tours, posters, pamphlets, petitions and political cartoons to make their point.


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Neither did they hesitate to embarrass President Wilson. During a 1914 presidential speech to Congress, Paul’s suffragists unfurled a banner from the front row of the visitors’ gallery, reading, “Mr. Wilson, what are you doing for women’s suffrage?”

Paul and her National Women’s Party continued to press Wilson and the Congress for national suffrage.


Starting in January 1917, Paul took her fight to the gates of the White House as the first cause ever to do so.  Paul and her “Silent Sentinels” maintained an almost constant vigil for months in front of the White House.


Paul specifically declined to reduce her political agitation for suffrage on account of the U.S. entry into World War I in April 1917.

In June 1917, the White House picketers greeted a visiting Russian delegation with signs that read, “Tell our government that it must liberate its women before it can claim free Russia as an ally.” After this so-called “Russian Incident” the White House changed its laissez-faire attitude towards the suffrage picketers and the first arrests were made for “obstructing traffic.”

After a “Kaiser Wilson” banner was unfurled on August 14, 1917, an angry mob of government workers and sailors responded by assaulting the picketers.  Police did not intervene.


Picketers continued to be arrested through the fall with longer sentences imposed.[3]


Finally, in jail, Paul and others decided to implement a strategy Paul had learned in England – the hunger strike – refusing to eat as a protest of their detention.  Prison officials responded by force-feeding the hunger strikers with forcibly inserted nasal tubes.[4] Paul herself was held in solitary confinement and even placed in a psychiatric ward.[5]

The National Women’s Party was able to turn the barbaric treatment of Paul and the other jailed suffragists into sympathy for their cause and embarrassment for President Wilson.[6] Responding to public pressure, finally, Wilson announced his support for the federal suffrage amendment. With his support, Congress passed the amendment in June 1919 and it was ratified and signed into law on August 26, 1920.

It seems inconceivable to us today that women would not have the right to vote, to control their own wages, to own property in their own names or to be admitted on equal terms to schools, jobs and professions.  But without the struggle, perseverance, suffering and dedication of Alice Paul and her fellow suffragists, it might have taken much longer to obtain these rights.

And so, we honor and “Remember the Ladies.”


Who were the Ladies of the 19th Amendment?


  1. Abigail Adams,[7] the woman who urged her husband, John Adams, to “remember the ladies,” had six children and is one of only two women to have been both a wife and mother of a U.S. President. (Married to John Adams, the second president and mother to John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. president.) (Extra points! Who was the other first lady also to be the mother to a president?)


2.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were two women active in the anti-slavery movement along with their husbands.  When they were denied seats on the main floor and the right to speak at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, they began to plan a convention to address the rights of women.

That meeting took place in 1848 and was called the Seneca Falls Convention. It produced the Declaration of Sentiments[8] and is considered the start of the long campaign for women’s suffrage.

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3.  Susan B. Anthony was the first woman to be honored by having her likeness appear on a circulating United States coin. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin Act into law and on July 2, 1979, the U. S. Mint officially released the Susan B. Anthony coin in Rochester, NY, Susan B. Anthony’s hometown. In the years 1979 to 1981 almost 900 million coins were produced.  (Extra points!  Who is the only other woman ever to appear on a U.S. dollar coin?)[9]

4.  Alice Paul was extremely well educated for her time or even for today. She graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with a degree in biology in 1905.  She studied at Columbia University in New York and received both a Master of Arts and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. She also received three law degrees:  Paul received her law degree from the Washington College of Law at American University in 1922. In 1927, she earned an LL.M, and in 1928, a Doctorate in Civil Laws from American University.

5.  Inez Milholland was the lady wearing the dramatic white cape who lead the suffrage parade on March 13, 1913 astride a snow white horse. She was an ardent activist for women’s suffrage and other causes. She was also a lawyer, having received her degree from New York University Law School.   She insisted on an active speaking schedule for women’s suffrage despite suffering ill health and collapsed while making a speech in Los Angeles and died only a month later.

6.  Ida B. Wells was one of a number of African American women who were active in the suffrage movement.  In the planning for the March 1913 parade, Alice Paul asked the African American delegation to march in a segregated group in order to pacify the delegations of women from the south.  Ida B. Wells agreed but then joined the main parade in progress marching with her home-state Illinois delegation.Wells was also an active campaigner against racial discrimination.  At the age of only 22, Wells refused to give up her seat and the conductor and two men dragged her out of the car. Wells sued the railroad and won receiving a court settlement of $500.  In April 1887, however, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed her the ruling.


Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in 1797 in New York with the name Isabella Baumfree. She gained her freedom with the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827.  Isabella became an itinerant preacher and in 1843 took a “free” name of Sojourner Truth. During this period she became involved in the growing antislavery movement, and by the 1850s she was involved in the woman’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?” [10]


8.  The “Silent Sentinels” were the many women who took turns holding banners outside the gates of the White House from January 1917 to June 1919 calling publicly on President Woodrow Wilson to support freedom and equality for women. This was the first time that a cause had used the now common tactic of picketing in front of the White House with signs and banners. While at first the president and police allowed the activity, eventually the police and administration decided to put a stop to it with arrests for “obstructing traffic.” [11]

9.  Lucy Burns was the co-founder of the National Women’s Party along with Alice Paul. They met in a London police station after both being arrested for demonstrating for women’s suffrage in London. There after they became close friends.  Lucy was one of the women arrested in November 1917 subjected to the Night of Terror in the Occoquan Workhouse.  It was reported that guards beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her that way for the night.


[1] “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/abigail-adams-urges-husband-to-remember-the-ladies

[3] November 15, 1917, Night of Terror at Occoquan Workhouse: Under orders from W. H. Whittaker, superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse, as many as forty guards with clubs went on a rampage, brutalizing thirty-three jailed suffragists. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her there for the night. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate Alice Cosu, who believed Mrs. Lewis to be dead, suffered a heart attack. According to affidavits, other women were grabbed, dragged, beaten, choked, slammed, pinched, twisted, and kicked. http://womenshistory.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=womenshistory&cdn=education&tm=8&f=20&su=p284.13.342.ip_&tt=2&bt=3&bts=33&zu=http%3A//www.moondance.org/1998/winter98/nonfiction/alice.html

[4] Force-feeding scene from the movie Iron Jawed Angels (Caution: this scene is graphic and disturbing) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO70ZjZ0wrw

[5] Accuse Jailers of Suffragists, Lawyer and others Charge 30 Prisoners at Occoquan Treated Brutally, 1917,  http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F5091FFA3A5E11738DDDAE0994D9415B878DF1D3

[6] Judge rules Occoquan confinement illegal. Accuse Jailers of Suffragists, Lawyer and others Charge 30 Prisoners at Occoquan Treated Brutally, 1917,  http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F5091FFA3A5E11738DDDAE0994D9415B878DF1D3

[7] Read more about Abigail Adams: http://www.biography.com/people/abigail-adams-9175670

[8] The Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention, using the model of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, forthrightly demanded that the rights of women as right-bearing individuals be acknowledged and respected by society. It was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/senecafalls.asp

[9] Sacagawea on the dollar coin: 1999-Present.  http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/fun_facts/?action=fun_facts8

[11] White House picketing clip from HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G811_Ej7LiQ; See also, Suffragists Will Picket White House, NY Times, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9806E2D61438EE32A25753C1A9679C946696D6CF

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Vision 2020 is a national coalition of organizations and individuals united in their commitment to achieve women’s economic and social equality. Join Vision 2020 today! http://www2.drexelmed.edu/vision2020giftsonline/Individual.aspx
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