Learning from History: In the end, we win.

Jeremy Hooper of Good-As-You posted an article this afternoon pointing out some similarities between our struggle now and the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century. It’s a great post focusing on the Maine suffrage vote (which they lost) in September 1917. Go here to read it before reading on here.

Of course, when I saw it I did a quick face palm. I’ve had a similar post roaming around in my head for the last few weeks. So at the risk of looking like a big copycat, take a look at what I found a few weeks ago on the National Woman’s Party. As in Jeremy’s research, the parallels are startling.

The National Woman’s Party (NWP), was a women’s organization founded in 1916 that fought for women’s rights during the early 20th century in the United States, particularly for the right to vote on the same terms as men. In contrast to other organizations, such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which focused on lobbying individual states and from which the NWP split, the NWP put its priority on the passage of a constitutional amendment ensuring women’s suffrage. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns founded the organization originally under the name the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913; by 1917, the name had been changed to the National Woman’s Party.

1917 NWP protest for the right to vote
1917 NWP protest for the right to vote
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Women associated with the party staged a suffrage parade on March 3, 1913, the day before Wilson’s inauguration; they also became the first women to picket for women’s rights in front of the White House. The picketers were tolerated until 1917, but when they continued to picket after the United States declared war in World War One, they were arrested by police for “obstructing traffic”.

Many of the NWP’s members, upon arrest, went on hunger strikes; some, including Paul, were force-fed by jail personnel as a consequence. The resulting scandal and its negative impact on the country’s international reputation at a time when Wilson was trying to build a reputation for himself and the nation as an international leader in human rights may have contributed to Wilson’s decision to publicly call for the United States Congress to pass the Suffrage Amendment.

Burning President Wilson's speeches in January 1919
Burning President Wilson's speeches in January 1919
Click for full and high resolution photograph

Are the situations totally analogous? Of course not. But the similarities are undeniable, right down to a national lobbying group that wants to go slow with a state-by-state approach and a president who swore he was on their side.

So buck up, fellow LGBTs. We can learn from our nation’s history. We can be successful as they were by fighting as they did. It’ll take work, but we’re on our way.

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