“MR. PRESIDENT: IT IS UNJUST TO DENY WOMEN A VOICE IN THEIR GOVERNMENT WHEN THE GOVERNMENT IS CONSCRIPTING THEIR SONS.”
-Draft Day Picket Banner, Sept 4, 1917
What is the role of political dissent during wartime? Is it treasonous to criticize a president when the nation is at war?
On June 20, 1917, National Woman’s Party (NWP) co-founder Lucy Burns took up her position on the sidewalk in front of the White House entry gate. Burns and NWP member Dora Lewis held between them a large banner address “To the Envoys of Russia.” The banner accused President Woodrow Wilson of deceiving the Russians when he claimed that the two countries were fighting to preserve democracy. “We, the Women of America, tell you that America is not a democracy,” the banner read. “Twenty million American Women are denied the right to vote. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement.” The Russian delegation saw the banner as their car passed through the White House gate on their way to meet with the president.
The National Woman’s Party had organized pickets of the White House for six days a week, in all kinds of weather, since January 10, 1917. The “Silent Sentinels” as they were known showed up each day holding banners demanding the right to vote for American women. Rather than pursue enfranchisement state by state, as the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had done, the NWP focused their efforts on the passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment, named for Susan B. Anthony and first introduced in 1878, guaranteed that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”