Woodrow Wilson Postcard
Woodrow Wilson was Governor of New Jersey when he won election to the presidency in 1912. During the election year, Wilson was undecided on the issue of women's suffrage and avoided taking a stand. On one hand, Wilson was a dedicated progressive. He had also taught in a women's college and had two grown daughters who were suffragists. He was well aware of women's intellectual abilities and desire for full social and political rights. On the other hand, Wilson was born and raised in Virginia and held to many of the beliefs of a Southern Democrat. He held racist views, was a die-hard advocate of states' rights, and believed that suffrage might open the door to federal interference in elections and voting rights for African Americans.
Suffrage activists, particularly those from the Congressional Union (later renamed the National Woman's Party), staged demonstrations and petition drives to try to win the president's attention. When Wilson refused to give his support, the NWP even threatened to campaign against him and the Democrats in 1916. However, as war broke out in Europe, the issue of peace became more important to many women, and the majority of suffragists supported Wilson in 1916 despite his lack of action of women's rights.
Wilson's peace efforts were in vain, and the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. The NWP continued its demonstrations outside the White House. These suffragists were arrested and sometimes jailed for considerable lengths of time. Some staged hunger strikes and were force-fed, and their leader, Alice Paul, was arrested and put in a mental ward. The tactics of the radical suffragists made headlines around the world. Cannily, the more moderate suffragists took advantage of the controversy, setting themselves up as the obvious alternative. The House of Representatives passed a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution in January 1918.
It was not until after the war ended in November that Wilson endorsed the measure, and Southern Democrats in the Senate held up passage until June 1919. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified by two-thirds of the states, becoming the law of the land in August 1920.
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Woodrow Wilson Postcard, Erminia Thompson Folsom Papers, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.