December 8, 1917 — Dinner in honor of picket prisoners, Washington DC
It was two days before Thanksgiving. We were to go out for a walk in the prison yard, when the matron arbitrarily announced, “You’ll have to stay out two hours, If you go out, you stay out.” We concluded that air was essential and trusted to the gods to get back. After about fifteen minutes we knocked at the barred doors and secured admission. As we reached our tier of the cage we saw Miss Burns standing at one side of the long table and a group of intense, expectant pickets who had not gone out were around her. We hurried to them and in a moment gathered that a court order had been received dismissing some of us from jail!
What did it mean? Miss Burns’ face was troubled as she tried to grasp the situation. Why were some of us freed and other detained? Was the order legitimate? Were we to be spirited back to the horrors of Occoquan, where, under the publicity we had given his treatment, Whittaker would be more vicious in his revenge than he had yet been? Did the dismissal from jail mean capitulation to the hunger-strikers’ effort to force the authorities to recognize us as political prisoners?
My heart beat so violently it actually hurt. Up to this point I had felt comparatively strong, but at this moment — after the repeated picketing — after the farce of the trials — after the demoralizing night in the detention house — after the exhausting day of waiting in court to learn the final decision, and the unspeakable ride in the Black Maria — the horror of Whittaker’s Sadistic orgy at Occoquan, the uncertainty of his next move there — after the excitement of the trial at Alexandria and the offer and refusal of our freedom there — and the final deportation to the Washington jail with its negro prostitutes and suffrage prisoners separated by only thin partitions — and seven and a half days of hunger-striking at Occoquan, broken only on threat of the Occoquan authorities to detain us from the Alexandria trial, and three days continuation of this strike at the jail, when the moment of forcible feeding was imminent, when the night before I was lying faint on the narrow prison cot and my cell companion had whispered, “Don’t get frightened — that was a mouse in the corner of the cell a moment ago, but it’s run away,” and I languidly answered, “It must have known how hungry we are” — not at any of these moments had I quailed, but now it had arrived — breaking, devastating — the doors were to be open — we were to be free — I would escape honorably!
I looked at Lucy Burns’ face.
“How can we go and leave anyone behind?” She scarcely breathed the words but I felt the doors closing about me.
“How can we tell where Alice Paul and Rose Winslow are? We must stand together.”
The doors had closed again. My fate was sealed. We had felt a moment ago we could go no further. Now through Miss Burns’ inspiration we again stood together prepared to see it through. The spirit of the National Woman’s Party had conquered. The solidarity of these women gathered from the farthest corners of the Union — women who had never known each other before — they now stood together in the closest unity for a common cause.
“How do we know where Alice Paul is?” reiterated Miss Burns to the attendant.
“She is turned out of the hospital just as you’ve turned out of the hospital,” the woman answered.
But we weren’t turned out. We sat on our suit-cases and waited. We weren’t turned out until we saw Miss Amidon, who had come from our Headquarters, and until we knew the court order was authentic and that Miss Paul and all the other hunger-strikers were free. The recalcitrant ones, those which were a problem and which the authorities didn’t know what to do with, were free; the rest of our prisoners were to be dismissed the following day!
This was the last admission that the authorities did not know how to deal with the situation any more than they did when they gave us three days, or thirty days, or six months for the same act. Under no statute could it be called an offense.
So we went forth and a day later we were all outside the jail, but more than ever we realized that we were not free.
Source: The Suffragist, Vol V. No. 99, December 29, 1917.