Inside a Jail
c. December 6-9, 1917 — National Advisory Council, National Woman’s Party, Washington DC
[Miss Burns was still think from her long hunger-strike. She called for “a vote of thanks to Alice Paul, who led our forces into jail.”]
You know one has the most illuminating moments of one’s life inside a jail.
A rather well-known newspaper writer, who is not in the very least devote to the interests of the National Woman’s Party, came to see me when I was here. His attitude was frankly antagonistic. He took up the various points of criticism against our work, and after I had had really a rather good talk with him I asked him what he would advise us to do. I thought it would be interesting to know just the thing that he wanted us to stop doing because that would be absolutely the thing that was worrying the administration. And it would be a very good index to the sort of thing that we ought to keep up.
He said that we ought not to devote our attention to the President, who could do nothing, but to Congress, which could do everything. But when I explained the enormous amount of work that was spent upon Congress under the direction of our never-failing legislative and lobby committees and the amount of work that was done in the home constituencies of Congressmen, and about the calls that were made at the House Office Building from day to day, I could see that a rehearsal of this sort of activity did not interest him in the very least. “You ought not to picket the White House,” he said, “You ought to picket Congress.”
Well he went away and left me, and I remembered that when Miss Paul had first planned this picketing she said, “You see the task before us is this: we have got to focus public attention on the White House to show that the President is the responsible factor for action and to turn the eyes of women all over the country upon the President.”
It was because we focused public attention upon the White House — it was because of that, ladies and gentlemen, that we all went to jail. It was not because we held a banner, it was not because occasionally when the public knew that arrests were going to be made, a crowd assembled to see these arrests. We were arrested because they wanted to break up the most effective method of propaganda for the national enfranchisement of women that the women of this nation have ver yet discovered.
We went to jail and we are glad that we did it because it was enormously worth while. It kept before the people of this country and of other countries day by day clearly the fact that the head of this government — this champion democracy of the world — was not only refusing the enfranchise women who were pleading at his gates but was arresting them and having them sentenced to ridiculous terms, not recognizing that if they were offenders at all they were political offenders and entitled to honorable treatment — that it was the last thing in the world for the head of a great Administration to put the stamp of a criminal upon honorable women.
As the days went on the women got stronger and stronger and the government got weaker and weaker until at the last they did not know what to do. They did not dare say we were innocent. They did not dare send us to jail. The judge ducked and dodged, the commissioners ducked and dodged. They had to turn us into the streets, free to go on with our work just as we had before.
Now they have not yet, this government of ours has not yet got into its heart the courage to come out clearly for the political liberty of American people. It has not got that far. They may be simply trying to put the spotlight on Congress as they are so anxious that women may be persuaded to do. But if they are trying that they are doomed to complete and total failure. The women of this nation, literally every day and all the day until liberty is won for American women, are going to stand at the doors of the White House demanding that the President of the United States take the lead and make American people free.
Source: The Suffragist, Vol. V., No 99, December 15, 1917.