On Suffrage, (June 1915) Wilkes-Barre, PA

Context

Rose Winslow (Ruża Wenclawska) was one of many Polish immigrants coming to the United States in the late nineteenth century. Even though we do not know her birth date, we know that she was eleven when her family moved to Pennsylvania presumably in the 1890s. To support her family, she worked ten to twelve-hour days in the textile mills. Working conditions in the textile industry were catastrophic and, like many of her peers, Winslow contracted tuberculosis when she was a teenager. This experience motivated Winslow to become a labor organizer for the Garment Workers’ Union League and a labor advocate with the Consumer’s League.1 As part of her advocacy for workers’ rights, Winslow testified before legislative hearings in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to advocate for—among other things—an eight-hour workday for women.

Winslow’s eloquent speech in Harrisburg circulated widely and attracted the attention of Alice Paul, the leader of the National Women’s Party (NWP).2 The NWP was one of the more radical groups advocating for women’s votes, undertaking the most militant and visible tactics of the women’s suffrage movement (e.g., suffrage parades, suffrage protests in front of President Wilson’s White House). Paul actively recruited women from the working class who could eloquently spread the suffrage message, and Winslow was one of Paul’s most prominent recruits.3 As part of the NWP, Winslow undertook a speaking tour of the United States and even spoke in front of President Wilson.4

Winslow also took part in the “Silent Sentinel” protests—one of the more radical expressions of protest under Paul’s leadership. During these protests, NWP members protested silently in front of President Wilson’s White House every day for over two years.5 These protests and her eventual arrest by police on trumped-up charges demonstrated Winslow’s dedication and spirit of self-sacrifice. During their time in prison together, both Winslow and Paul participated in hunger strikes and were force-fed by prison guards. Winslow captured just how grueling such feedings were for them when she wrote: “one lies prone and people shove a pipe down one’s stomach.” In notes passed along to supporters from her prison cell, Winslow disclosed, “I heard myself making the most hideous sounds, like an animal in pain.”6 As Belinda A. Stillion Southard attests, this experience, alongside other forms of prison mistreatment, contributed to the sense of “militant identity” among the suffragists during the later stages of their movement.7

Efforts like Winslow’s to unite the suffrage and working-class movements were essential to the growth of both movements’ successes in the early 1910s.8 Against the backdrop of growing consciousness of the labor and suffrage movements, Winslow engaged in a speaking tour that brought her to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in June of 1915. Before an audience of predominantly male workers, Winslow faced a challenge of persuading them to support women’s suffrage. She also needed to address her own identity as a suffragist hailing from the working class. As a working-class advocate attracted to the suffrage movement, Winslow argued that women’s suffrage was crucial to all workers—men and women alike. This argument was not an easy one to advance. The male-dominated workers’ movement often failed to recognize the challenges faced by women in factories and other low-income jobs.9 The women’s suffrage movement also struggled to unite working-class and middle- and upper-class women. 10 In fighting for women’s rights as workers and as voters, Winslow experienced gender and class tensions within both movements.

Endnotes

  1. Linda Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1920 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991), 60-63; Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene, After the Vote Was Won: The Later Achievements of Fifteen Suffragists (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010), 16.
  2. Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels, 60-63.
  3. Ibid., 91-120.
  4. “Miss Rose Winslow,” Times-Leader, June 16, 1915; “Workers Here to Ask Wilson for Suffrage,”Washington Post, February 1, 1914; “Party in Power False to Cause of Suffragists,”The Morning Echo, October 23, 1914.
  5. Belinda A. Stillion Southard, Militant Citizenship: Rhetorical Strategies of the National Woman’s Party, 1913-1920 (College Station: Texas A&M University, 2011), 121-148.
  6. Rose Winslow, “Prison Notes, Smuggled to Friends from the District Jail (1917),” in Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946, ed. Mary Chapman and Angela Mills (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 282-283.
  7. Stillion Southard, Militant Citizenship, 144-148.
  8. Ibid., 50.
  9. Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in The United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 95, 156-157, 269.
  10. Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels, 92-120.