Streaking in History: The Silent Sentinels

Last year marked one hundred years since the passage of the nineteenth amendment which stated that gender should not exclude someone from the right to vote. Women had fought long and hard for that right for more than one hundred years, and they would continue to fight to be sure that voting was a privilege all citizens could enjoy. Did you know that a streak is at the heart of the turning point in the struggle for woman’s suffrage? An organized group of protesters known as the Silent Sentinels helped influence President Woodrow Wilson to support woman’s suffrage, which tipped the scale in favor of the 19th amendment.

There were several woman’s suffrage groups at the beginning of the 20th century. While they were all seeking the same main goal, different organizations had different means of accomplishing that goal. The National Woman’s Party was started in 1916 by Alice Paul and had a more militant approach to fighting for suffrage. Alice organized suffrage parades, hunger strikes, and a streak of protesting in front of the White House that would last for more than two years.

In January 1917, the women who would come to be known as the Silent Sentinels began a vigil outside the White House. Six days a week they silently took whatever abuse was thrown at them as they protested for their right to have a say in government. They endured brutal treatment in prisons. They were force-fed and tortured. And still the women maintained their streak. Their consistency in the face of overwhelming circumstances won over the American public and eventually President Woodrow Wilson himself.

In January 1918, President Wilson publicly announced his support of a federal amendment for woman’s suffrage. Even after this announcement, the Silent Sentinels could be found with their banners outside the White House. The protesting streak continued until June of 1919 when the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the amendment. The women then turned their attention away from the White House to persuading the states to ratify the new amendment.

The consistency of the Silent Sentinels was a key factor in passing the 19th amendment and getting rid of the voting restrictions based on gender. For more than 125 weeks, six days a week, women could be found outside the White House steadfastly protesting for their rights. The streak of the Silent Sentinels changed American society. What will your streak do for you?

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