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Votes for Women

In January 1917, a group of women organized by the National Woman’s Party began picketing in front of the White House in protest of President Woodrow Wilson’s failure to support a suffrage amendment. These “silent sentinels,” so-called because of their silent protest, faced frequent attack by angry mobs as well as arrest. Among them were Chicago women, including Madeline Upton Watson and Lucy Ewing.

By the early twentieth century, Chicago-area women’s struggle for the vote was part of a mass movement drawing increasing media attention. Suffragists claimed that the vote was a matter of equal rights and a key to solving other problems and injustices. But many thought voting was a man’s job, and women endured ridicule and insult, violence and jail, before a federal amendment was passed in 1920.

In addition to picketing the White House, Chicago women of different backgrounds stitched banners and marched in parades. Some gave speeches or wrote suffrage literature, while others handed it out in the streets. Learn more about the many ways women fought for the vote in our latest episode of Democracy Limited: Chicago Women and the Vote.

Image: The arrest of White House picketers Catherine Flanagan of Hartford, Connecticut (left), and Madeline Watson of Chicago (right), Washington, DC, 1917, Harris & Ewing photographer, Library of Congress,

Democracy Limited: Chicago Women and the Vote

A century after ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, the Chicago History Museum invites visitors to explore women’s activism in Chicago to secure the right to vote—and beyond. In our digital experience, Democracy Limited: Chicago Women and the Vote, discover the ways women organized to challenge the status quo and how these different paths led to a mass movement for suffrage. Find out what the vote did and did not accomplish, and for whom. Connect themes of the past with the present, which remind us that while injustice and inequality persist, so do activist women.

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