On January 10, 1917, suffragist and political strategist Alice Paul sent a group of women from the National Woman’s Party (NWP) to the White House. Tired of fruitless discussions with President Wilson on the topic of votes for women (Wilson came up with a variety of reasons for not supporting a constitutional amendment), Paul decided to keep the message in the public eye: “If a creditor stands before a man’s house all day long, demanding payment of his bill, the man must either remove the creditor or pay the bill.”
Inez Haynes Gillmore described that first delegation as consisting of a dozen women. Four carried lettered banners, eight carried ones made of the NWP’s colors of purple, white, and gold. Six women stationed themselves at the east gate of the White House, six at the west. The text of the banners contained the messages depicted above:
“Mr. President What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage”
“Mr. President How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty”
The questions were simple and direct, striking at the core of American democracy. The president tried to ignore the women, hoping they would give up and go away. When they didn’t, D.C. police arrested them on a variety of nuisance charges. Most women, including Alice Paul, chose jail over bail.
The perpetual delegation kept vigil for a year and a half, braving all kinds of weather and harassment from onlookers. Because of the perseverance of the NWP and other suffragists, American women achieved the right to vote in 1920.
For more on Alice Paul, see this fine biography: