1917 – The Night of Terror


The suffragists sentenced to 60 day prison terms for obstructing traffic [read: annoying the crap out of Woodrow Wilson] faced horrifying conditions in prison. After finding one too many bugs in their dinner they went on a hunger strike. By the time Alice Paul arrived, the guards were sick of dealing with dozens of women who never stopped reminding them that they were upstanding wives, mothers, and sisters who just wanted the right to vote. On November 14, 1917 the fed up prison guards took action – they beat and tormented the suffragists, young and old, and scared the hell out of them in what felt like an unending “Night of Terror.” These heroic women did not surrender. Instead, they responded with a collective, “Bring. It. On.”

They kept up their hunger strike, suffered in filth, and risked their lives to bring attention to their cause. Furious prison guards tormented the women further by force feeding them, three times a day. That’s a much more invasive and painful process than it sounds. Just ask Lucy Burns.

“I was held down by five people at legs, arms, and head. I refused to open mouth. [Doctor] pushed tube up left nostril. I turned and twisted my head all I could, but he managed to push it up. It hurts nose and throat very much and makes nose bleed freely. Food dumped directly into stomach feels like a ball of lead.”

Three times a day.

Woodrow Wilson wanted to shut down the NWP and its pickets by discrediting Alice Paul who was in the midst of a hunger strike. He sent a psychiatrist to interview her, because a woman who was that determined to win the vote must be insane right? Wrong. The psychiatrist concluded that Alice Paul was a perfectly sane woman who happened to want universal woman suffrage and she was willing to risk her life to get it.

Finally, the press got a hold of the hunger strike story. The women were released from prison and they kept on picketing the White House until Wilson threw his hands in the air and gave in. He agreed to support the Nineteenth Amendment. The President had tried to break Alice Paul and she broke him first [this is starting to sound like a inspiring YA novel].

Let’s avoid making November 8 another Night of Terror. Cast a ballot for the first woman president and then go home and eat a veggie burger.

Alice Paul would want you to.

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