Picketing the White House


When President-elect arrived the day prior to his inauguration he was met with very little fanfare.  In fact, there were so little people there to greet him that one of his staff workers asked where everyone was?  He was informed that everyone was gathered just a few blocks away attending the Women's Suffrage Parade.  
There is no other source available regarding whether this angered the President-elect or if he was indifferent to the fact that people chose to attend the parade over welcoming him.

This event is portrayed accurately in the movie Iron Jawed Angels. President Wilson doesn't show any anger in the movie, just curiosity as to why no one is there to greet him. Similarly, I wasn't able to find anything published in The New York times addressing this issue.


Due to President Woodrow Wilson ignoring the pressing issue of Women's Suffrage, Alice Paul and her fellow suffragists decide to picket The White House.  They hope that this act will pressure the President into taking action and endorsing Women's Suffrage.  In January of 1917 members of the NWP began to silently stand by the entrance gates of the White House with banners encouraging support of women's right to vote. They were given the name "silent sentinels" because they did not speak or shout to get their point across, they were a silent yet constant demand for attention. 

Picketing of the White House continued day in and day out, regardless of the fact that the only acknowledgement they were getting from The President was a polite smile and tip of the hat.  As time went on, some people began to worry as it appeared that the US was entering a war. Some women were worried that protesting The President during a war would be considered Treason. What is Treason?

According to the Constitution Of The United States:
US Constitution: Article III Section 3 - "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason but no Attainder of Treason shall work corruption of blood or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted."
Some of the women fighting for Women's suffrage thought that they should support the President during this War and put their fight for Suffrage on the back burner. It was thought by some that protesting at The White House during a time of War could be considered Treason.  NAWSA announced it’s support for President Wilson, but Alice Paul and her followers still planned on picketing The White House, and that's exactly what they did. 
Some people went as far as to say that picketing The White House was a silent invitation to an assassin. They argued that picketing is a threat to the President’s life.  Someone could stand right outside the front gates of The White House with a gun under their coat, being concealed by suffragists colors, and assassinate The President as he comes and goes from The White House. 
This did not stop NWP from continuing to Picket The White House. They Stood Strong, they continued to fight for their cause. 
No one was ever arrested on the basis of Treason or charged with Treason.

The movie Iron Jawed Angels portrays the even accurately as well.  It is apparent in the movie that women are concerned, even Alice Paul considers the option of stopping the picketing. The movie does a great job at showing the personal dilemma that each woman went through regarding this choice. However, the suffragists never back down, and no one is ever arrested for Treason.  The New York Times did publish a few articles showing concern over the picketing going on at the White House, but it does not report any Treason. The movie also accurately portrays President Wilson's reaction; which was a polite reaction but still not willing to endorse Women's suffrage.   It appears that the movie Iron Jawed Angels and The New York times both accurately reported facts.


(See 5:00-5:30)

See 5:50-6:03

The banners displayed in the movie contain almost the exact same words as the banners that were used by the original picketers.  In the examples above it is obvious that the makers of Iron Jawed Angels did their research and were able to replicate the banners quite nicely.  There were minor differences in some of the banners, such as the "Kaiser Wilson" banner shown below. These differences were simple grammatical corrections that did not change the message of the banners.  The New York Times accurately reported the banners as they did report on the picketing taking place, including reporting when the women had their banners damaged by onlookers, and The New York Times published pictures of the picketing taking place.

Eventually women started to be arrested, for “blocking of traffic and unlawful assemblage”.  In the movie it appears that all women were given the option of paying a fine or go to jail and that all the arrested women went to jail because paying the fine would be admitting guilt, and they were not guilty of anything. It appears that The New York Times reported numerous incidents where women did in fact pay the bail and were released rather than serving jail time right away. Often times they were required to come back for trial within a few days, and often times at that point they went to jail.  Some women were released under bonds with the promise of coming back the next day for trial.  These charges were later deemed unconstitutional as they were exercising their right to peacefully and silently picket The White House, on public property.

Also, this event was portrayed accurately in the movie.  Although the movie didn't show the women that paid the bail, I believe this was done for the concern of length of the movie, not to distort the actual events. The New York Times reports on the several suffragists that were arrested and jailed, and also on the women that were not jailed because of bails or bonds being met.  


Who is Kaiser? Why did the Kaiser banners cause so much contention?

According to Dictionary.com Kaiser is "a person who exercises or tries to exercise absolute power".  The prefix Kaiser was used for German Emperors, an example would be Kaiser Wilhemm II. 
Since the word Kaiser means someone who has or is trying to have absolute power with no concern for democracy, when the suffragists began calling President Wilson "Kaiser Wilson", it's no surprise that it attracted some attention. 
The “Kaiser Wilson” banners created an uproar of anger from crowds.  People, both men and women, repeatedly tear and rip the banners carried by NWP.  Most of the time the police do not intervene to protect the suffragists or their property, but there were some cases were they did, and 2 men were even arrested.  It appears that the “Kaiser Wilson” banners created so much publicity that the NWP kept making more of them because it was getting attention. Police tried to keep women from using these “Kaiser Wilson” banners but had no success.   I can’t find anything showing a reaction to these banners from President Wilson himself. 
In the movie it doesn't seem that quite as much attention was given to the time period where they were holding up these "Kaiser Wilson" banners.  It was shown in the movie that the women did carry these banners and that it did upset people, but it doesn't show the extent of the anger it caused.  The NY times repeatedly published articles stating that the "Kaiser" banners were being destroyed by onlookers.
Again, it doesn't seem that this was intentionally done by the makers of the movie, it seems that it was done in interest of time.