We know we are going to be arrested today

Women prepare to picket the White House for the right to vote on Nov 10, 1917. Colorized image of National Woman's Party

November 10, 1917. Photo: Harris & Ewing, from Library of Congress. Color: Post Emily. 

In 1917, women picketed nearly daily at the White House for an amendment to give women the right to vote. In summer, arrests began. In October, when their leader was arrested and imprisoned, women came to Washington from all over the country. On November 10, a total of 41 women bore banners asking the President why they were being deprived of the right to vote. This photo was taken just before they left to protest in front of the White House. All 41 were arrested.

Suffrage Postcard Series, Card 2 (Other Cards: One Three Four)

How does a group of people who do not have the power of the vote gain that power? The ones who can give them the power are in office by the vote— an election. So how do those who cannot vote gain the right to vote?

Who are these women and why did they come to Washington, DC to take part in an act where they know they will be arrested?

Five things you need to know about the women who picketed on November 10.

1917 was a heck of a year for the women's suffrage movement. 

1. Ten months before this photo was taken on November 10, 1917, a picket campaign in front of the White House began.

The National Woman’s Party, the segment of woman suffragists focused on getting a federal amendment passed—and embraced confrontational tactics of demonstrations in addition to persuasion and lobbying and organization—had near daily visits of Silent Sentinels in front of the White House to put suffrage uppermost in the President’s mind, because they believed that Woodrow Wilson, as President and head of his party, had the influence and power to move the amendment through congress.

2. War.

In spring of 1917, nearly four months into the White House picket campaign, the United States entered war (with England, France, Russia, Italy) against Germany (and Austro-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria). President Wilson’s rationale was to “make the world safe for democracy.” The National Woman’s Party, faced with the question “The nation is at war, now what do we do?” had voted to stay the course of single-minded focus on getting democracy for women—half of the nation’s adult population. They sharpened their tactics to point out the hypocrisy of a nation sending sons over there to fight for democracy when women at home did not have democracy.

3. Arrests.

142 days before this photo (4 months and 20 days), on June 21, police began arresting the women holding banners in front of White House. The statements calling out the hypocrisy of the nation enraged bystanders and navy recruits. They tore down the banners. Police arrested the women. This drew larger crowds, as people gathered at the White House gates to see “what will happen?” Though the first arrests resulted in immediate release (the women went right back out and resumed picketing), soon the court trials resulted in 3-day jail sentences, and then increased to 30-day sentences to a Virginia workhouse. The women were resolute. When their banners were torn down, they immediately replaced them. When they were arrested, more women appeared on the picket line. In court, they defended themselves by invoking the first amendment that no law shall be made to abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. That is, Congress will not curtail the right of the people to publicly participate in government, or the right to raise issues of injustice and wrongs to the government and request that those be solved. The banner’s contents and each phase of the events were well-covered in newspapers nationwide. The National Woman’s Party even sent several women out on a speaking tour to tell the nation the story of the banners, why they were doing what they were doing, the arrests and the jailings.

4. Arrest of the Leader.

In October, a few weeks before this photo was taken, Alice Paul, the leader of the National Woman’s Party, was arrested and sentenced to seven months in jail for “obstructing traffic.” In response, women came to Washington, DC, from all over the country for a protest banner demonstration in front of the White House. This photo was taken just before the women went to hold banners in front of the White House. They came to this moment of this day knowing that they’d be arrested. The night before, they distracted guards at the workhouse and went to the window below where Alice Paul was to tell her their names and their plans for the big demonstration. The week before this photo was taken, the larger segment of the suffrage movement NAWSA (National American Women Suffrage Association), the group using the 48-state strategy of winning suffrage state by state won a huge victory. New York, the state with the highest population in the nation, and the first eastern state, just voted in a referendum to grant women the right to vote.

5. Picketed. Arrested. What happened next was awful. What happened after:  victory.

The women picketed and were arrested. Their defense argument baffled the judge, so he released them. Resolute and purposeful, they went right back out with their banners once more. They were arrested again and released again with instructions to “report to court on day X,” they went and protested one more time. A group of 31 from this group went to jail. The night of November 15 was referred to as “the Night of Terror” when jailers brutalized the women with beatings, cavalier tossing of bodies into cells and holding another group leader into manacle “stress position” with arms over her head. The new prisoners joined previously imprisoned suffragists in a hunger strike. Faced with women starving or the personnel and resources required to force feed 30 women, and a legal motion against treatment, the Administration folded and got the women released from prison on November 27. When Congress re-convened in early December, the House set a January date for a vote on the Woman Suffrage Amendment. The day before the vote, President Wilson declared his support for it and made himself available to members of his party who wanted to discuss it with him at his residence.

All of the suffragist protesters before the November 10, 1917 demonstration where all were arrested

All of the women who went to picket on November 10. Harris & Ewing photos.

Exactly two months after this photo was taken, the women scored a tremendous victory. The day after the President declared his support, January 10, 1918, one year from the beginning of the picket campaign, the House vote for the Susan B. Anthony amendment to enfranchise women passed by a two-thirds vote.

Postcard Series:

  1. Working Women's Picket
  2. We Know We Will Be Arrested Today
  3. Lafayette, We Are Here
  4. Senators, We Are Coming For You

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Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. Some of the picket line of . Left to right: Mrs. Catherine Martinette, Eagle Grove, Iowa. Mrs. William Kent, Kentfield, California. Miss Mary Bartlett Dixon, Easton, Md. Mrs. C.T. Robertson, Salt Lake City, Utah. Miss Cora Week, New York City. Miss Amy Juengling, Buffalo, N.Y. Miss Hattie Kruger, Belle Sheinberg, Julia Emory. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

For the four images of all 41 people (from Harris & Ewing scanned negatives), the Library of Congress images are here and here and here and here.


Gallagher, Robert S. “‘I was Arrested, Of Course…’ An interview with the famed suffragette, Alice PaulAmerican Heritage, Volume 25 Issue 2, 1974

Gluck, Sherna, Ed. From Parlor to Prison: Five American Suffragists Talk About Their Lives. An Oral history. Vintage Books, 1976

Harper, Ida Husted, Ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol 5. Fowler & Wells, 1922. [google books link]

Irwin, Inez Haynes. The Story of the Woman's Party Harcort Brace, 1921. [google books link]

Stevens, Doris. Jailed For Freedom. Boni and Liveright, 1920 [google books link]

Terborg-Penn, Rosalynn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Indiana University Press, 1998.

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, Ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. NewSage Press. 1995.