Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Off to San Francisco!

Yesterday I flew from my home in Maine to San Francisco, where the suffrage envoys launched their trip.  I wedged myself into my narrow seat, pulling my elbows in close to avoid encroaching into my seatmate’s space, and began reading some of the correspondence I’d gathered from the envoys’ trip 100 years ago. We were cruising along at about 30,000 feet, taking less than a day to travel in relative comfort a distance it took the suffrage envoys weeks of difficult driving to traverse. I kept picturing them in their little car, maneuvering over rough roads from early in the morning until late at night, and the contrast to my mode of travel was stark.

Today I visited the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, taking the BART over from San Francisco. I wanted to look at issues of The Suffragist, the weekly newspaper of the Congressional Union (CU.) The CU had launched the suffrage envoys on their trip, and had included a number of articles covering their journey. I’d already read what Sara Bard Field and Mabel Vernon had sent back to headquarters about what was happening, but it was fun to see how the editors then packaged that material into a news article that maximized its appeal and political message.

Courtesy of Library of Congress
It occurs to me that I failed to introduce Mabel Vernon in the first blog, a grave oversight. Mabel was
one of the CU’s key organizers, an able and effective public speaker and a real workhorse. To Mabel fell the job of leapfrogging the country ahead of the envoys, drumming up support from prominent men and women, organizing rallies in the larger cities, and praying the envoys would arrive on time to the scheduled events. Since she traveled by train and generally stayed in larger cities with better accommodations, Mabel had a little easier time physically but she had a very demanding and stressful job nevertheless. I think of her as one of the unsung heroes of the later years of the suffrage campaign; she gets mentioned, but no one knows a lot about her and she hasn’t been the focus of much research, at least as far as I know. Mabel was from Wilmington, Delaware, a Quaker, and had graduated from Swarthmore College a couple years ahead of Alice Paul. I wonder if Wilmington knows they had such a cool native daughter?

Alice Paul. Photo courtesy of the
Library of Congress.
Alice Paul was the co-founder (along with Lucy Burns) of the CU, and served as its president. She was also a Quaker, from New Jersey. Before joining the suffrage movement in the US Alice and Lucy had spent several years in England, working with Sylvia and Emmeline Pankhurst, who were known as radical suffragists for their more aggressive approach to demanding voting rights for women. In their service Alice & Lucy had been jailed, had gone on hunger strikes, and been force-fed through feeding tubes pushed up their noses and down into their stomachs. But they hadn’t done anything like that in the US. Yet. 

Alice and Lucy formed the Congressional Union in 1913 to advocate for an amendment to the US Constitution enfranchising women (which they thought would be a lot faster and more direct than getting it state by state.) Around 1916 it formed the National Woman’s Party, the world’s first women’s political party, whose one-plank platform was passing the federal amendment as quickly as possible. The two organizations merged in 1917, and it was the NWP name that stuck. Unless there’s a reason to mention the NWP, I’m going to stick to the CU in this blog.

OK, that’s a lot of background stuff, but if you don’t know these basics then some of what I talk about in future blogs won’t make sense. 


  1. All new to me! Thanks!
    As you take off, just think, their ride was so dusty, no air conditioning, bumpy roads and I bet they had to carry extra gas. I doubt there were gas stations at all the right distances.

  2. What a great idea! It is amazing how far we have come in the speed and convenience of travel, as well as in our progress toward women's equality, although we must continue the struggle. We would love to share your travel stories through social media. What route will you be following? Do you have a map itinerary image?

    Safe travels,
    Turning Point Suffragist Memorial

  3. I finally got around to uploading the map- hope you saw it under "Crossing Nevada’s Great Basin- Then and Now."

  4. Enjoying this series and so interesting to have you affirm my understanding as you supply much appreciated nuances, etc.