I love stories. They allow me to see a more full picture of humanity – a unique glimpse of God and the faultiness of our beings. I see the glory of all humans were intended to be and the awful brokenness of who we are. Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present offers glimpses into the lives and the stories of women in the United States since 1775. The words in this letter were written by one of the bravest women I know… and yet she invalidates and diminishes herself by revealing her belief that to be emotional is to be weak and feeble, and that emotions are something to be conquered. Commonality arises, as to this day, this belief is still entrenched in our values and in how boys and girls are socialized. In understanding what her words reveal through omission, I am also forced to confront the greater reality that the fight for women’s suffrage was fought primarily for White women. This is still a tension today, as women of color often feel they must chose between fighting against racism or sexism. As a White woman who is a follower of Jesus, I must stand side-by-side with all my sisters, and ask to be given the honor to hear their stories.

With American men overseas, the war offered American women new possibilities – not only for hard and important work, but also for political leverage. In 1917, Alice Paul and a group of suffragists started picketing the White House on a nearly daily basis, demanding the vote. The presence of these self-named “Silent Sentinels,” as well as their placards (“Mr. President How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty”) was a constant affront to Woodrow Wilson and an embarrassment before visiting dignitaries. In June of 1917, the first six women were arrested, and eleven more on July 4, on charges of obstructing traffic. Rose Winslow was among one group sentences to seven months in prison. After staging a huger strike – in which the women asked to be treated as political, not criminal, prisoners – they were brutally force-fed. The letter below is comprised of a series of notes smuggled out from the prison hospital to Winslow’s husband and her friends.

1917: December
Rose Winslow to her husband and to members of the National Woman Party.

If this thing is necessary we will naturally go through with it. Force is so stupid a weapon. I feel so happy doing my bit for decency – for our war, which is after all, real and fundamental…

The women are all so magnificent, so beautiful. Alice Paul is as thin as ever, pale and large-eyed. We have been in solitary for five weeks. There is nothing to tell but that the days go by somehow. I have felt quite feeble the last few days – faint, so that I could hardly get my hair brushed, my arms ached so. But to-day I am well again. Alice Paul and I talk back and forth though we are at opposite ends of the building and a hall door also shuts us apart. But occasionally – thrills – we escape from behind our iron-barred doors and visit. Great laughter and rejoicing!…

My fainting probably means nothing except that I am not strong after these week. I know you won’t be alarmed.

I told about a syphilitic colored woman with one leg. The other one was cut off, having rotted so that it was alive with maggots when she came in. The remaining one is now getting as bad. They are so short of nurses that a little colored girl of twelve, who is here waiting to have her tonsils removed, waits on her. This child and two others share a ward with a syphilitic child of three or four years, whose mother refused to have it at home. It makes you absolutely ill to see it. I am going to break all three windows as a protest against their confining Alice Paul with these!

Dr. Gannon is chief of a hospital. Yet Alice Paul and I found we have been taking baths in one of the tubs here, in which this syphilitic child, an incurable, who has his eyes bandaged all the time, is also bathed. he has been here a year. Into the room where he lives came yesterday two children to be operated on for tonsillitis. They also bathed in the same tub. The syphilitic woman has been in that room seven months. Cheerful mixing, isn’t it? The place is alive with roaches, crawling all over the walls, everywhere. I found one in my bed the other day…

There is great excitement about my two syphilitics. Each nurse is being asked whether she told me. So, as in all institutons where an unsantiary fact is made public, no effort is made to make the wrong itself right. All hands fall to, to find the culprit, who made it known, and he is punished…

Alice Paul is in the psychopathic ward. She dreaded forcible feeding frightfully, and I had to think how she must be feeling. I had a nervous time of it, gasping a long time afterward, and my stomach rejecting during the process. I spent a bad, restless night, but otherwise I am all right. The poor soul who fed me got liberally besprinkled during the process. I hear myself making the most hideous sounds, like an animal in pain, and thought how dreadful it was of me to make such horrible sound… One feels so forsaken when one lies prone and people shove a pipe down one’s stomach…

This morning but for an astounding tiredness, I am all right. I am waiting to see what happens when the President realized that brutal bullying isn’t quite a statesmanlike method for settling a demand for justice at home. At least, if men are supine enough to endure, women – to their eternal glory – are not…

They took down the boarding from Alice Paul’s window yesterday, I heard. It is so delicious about Alice and me. Over in the jail a rumor began that I was considered insane and would be examined. Then came Doctor White, and said he had come to see “the thyroid case.” When they left we argued about the matter, neither of us knowing which was considered “suspicious.” She insitied it was she, and, as it happened, she was right. Imagine any one thinking Alice Paul needed to be “under observation!” The thick-headed idiots!…

Yesterday was a bad day for me in feeding. I was vomiting continually during the process. The tube has developed an irritation somewhere that is painful.

Never was there a sentence like ours for such an offense as ours, even in England. No woman ever got it over there even for tearing down buildings. And during all that agitation we were busy saying that never would such things happen in the United States. The men told us they would not endure such frightfulness…

Mary Beard and Helen Todd were allowed to stay only a minute, and I cried like a fool. I am getting over that habit, I think.

I fainted again last night. I just fell flop over in the bathroom where I was washing my hands and was led to bed when I recovered, by a nurse. I lost consciousness just as I got there again. I felt horribly faint until 12 o’clock, then fell asleep for awhile…

I was getting frantic because you seemed to think Alice was with me in the hospital. She was in the psychopathic ward. The same doctor feeds us both, and told me. Don’t let them tell you we take this well. Miss Paul vomits much. I do, too, except when I’m not nervous, as I have been every time against my will. I try to be less feeble-minded. It’s the nervous reaction, and I can’t control it much. I don’t imagine bathing one’s food in tears very good for one.

We think of the coming feeding all day. It is horrible. The doctor thinks I take it well. I hate the thought of Alice Paul as the others if I take it well…

We still get no mail; we are “insubordinate.” It’s strange, isn’t it; if you ask for food fit to eat, as we did, you are “insubordinate”; and if you refuse food you are “insubordinate.” Amusing. I am really all right. If this continues very long I perhaps won’t be. I am interested to see how long our so-called “splendid American men” will stand for this form of discipline.

All news cheers one marvelously because it is hard to feel anything but a bit desolate and forgetten here in the place.

All the officers here know we are making this hunger strike that women fighting for liberty may be considered political prisoners; we have told them. God knows we don’t want other women ever to have to do this over again.”

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