Jan 1

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Excerpt: A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot

Posted 6 years, 3 months ago.


The following is an excerpt from A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot, Mary Walton chronicles the final years of the suffrage movement, when women picketed the White House, were jailed, went on hunger strikes and were force fed. Even after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 4, 1919, ratification by the requisite 36 states was by no means ensured. Purchase the book here.

Where was Jesse Bloch?

Under the gold dome of the West Virginia capitol, on the banks of the stately Kanawha River, one half of the senate was holding the other half hostage until its vacationing member, a bespectacled forty-year-old tobacco millionaire from Wheeling, could charge to the rescue of the Susan B. Anthony amendment.

The house had passed the bill but the state senate had tied, 14 to 14, then refused to reconsider. Still, the session could not end without a majority of both houses voting to adjourn. And so the fourteen pro-suffrage lawmakers signed a pact to wait for Jesse, a like-minded Republican, said to be sunning himself somewhere in California.

When Bloch surfaced, in Pasadena according to one report, he jumped on a train, still in his swimming suit. It made good reading–and by now the newspapers were full on the story–but the senator would later say he was in San Francisco when he read that his colleagues needed him.

By March 4, 1920, Bloch and Mrs. Bloch were speeding east. A front page editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail fumed that the senate was running up a bill of $1,500 a day to stay in session—“a wicked perversion” that promised “untold evils for the future.”

The West Virginia lawmaker arrived in Chicago at 11:30 A.M. March 9. A one-car special booked for $5,000 by the Republican National Committee panted in a train shed, ready to spirit him to Cincinnati and a connection with the 7 P.M. train for Charleston.

After a journey already being compared to the historic ride of Paul Revere, the Wheeling legislator entered the Senate on the afternoon of March 10 to a standing ovation. A suffragist pinned a yellow flower to his lapel. The Senate voted to reconsider. At 6:10 P.M. the thirty-fourth state ratified.

[The state of Washington was next. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee put ratification over the top. The amendment was signed into law on August 26, 1920.]