19th Amendment at 100: Women Are First to Protest White House

The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, but this landmark event was neither the beginning nor the end of the story for women and their struggle for the right to vote. Join us in 2020 as we commemorate this centennial year with 12 stories from our holdings for you to save, print, or share. January’s featured image is of Alice Turnbull Hopkins protesting outside the White House on January 30, 1917.

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Women were the first organized group to protest at the gates of the President’s house. Beginning on January 10, 1917, women seeking voting rights stationed themselves outside the White House.

These pickets were organized by the National Woman’s Party (NWP), which employed militant tactics to agitate for the vote. The NWP had been created by Alice Paul, who was frustrated with the suffrage movement’s slow progress.

The women stood without speaking in front of the White House, holding banners. They became known as the “Silent Sentinels” as they stood at their posts for almost three years, six days a week. They had hoped to embarrass President Woodrow Wilson into supporting a Federal woman suffrage amendment. Instead, the Wilson administration responded aggressively.

Female protester holding a sign
“Silent Sentinel” Alison Turnbull Hopkins stands out the White House, January 30, 1917. National Archives Identifier: 594266

Beginning in June 1917 and continuing until November of that year, a total of 218 Silent Sentinels were arrested while peacefully protesting in Washington, DC. They were charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic,” and many were convicted. The six defendants in Hunter et al. v. District of Columbia appealed their conviction. On March 4, 1918, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals declared the actions of the Sentinels fully legal and reversed all of their convictions.

The Sentinels’ experiences in jail were grim. Held in horrifying conditions, some incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings. The resulting publicity and public outcry over their treatment is often credited with compelling President Woodrow Wilson to support woman suffrage.

The protesters would demonstrate for nearly 30 months until Congress passed a joint resolution proposing a 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919.

Download the January calendar page featuring Alison Turnbull Hopkins.

Rightfully Hers Exhibit
Learn more about the role of the Silent Sentinels in “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote” at the National Archives Museum through January 3, 2021.

This blog post was adapted from exhibit text written by curator Corinne Porter for Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, and from the educational resource DocsTeach.

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