On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson is picketed by woman suffragists in front of the White House, who demand that he support an amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee women the right to vote.
Wilson had a history of lukewarm support for women’s suffrage, although he paid lip service to suffragists’ demands during political campaigns and greeted previously peaceful suffrage demonstrators at the White House with decorum. He was also a former teacher at a women’s college and the father of two daughters who considered themselves “suffragettes.” During the 1912 presidential campaign against Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and his opponent agreed on many reform measures such as child-labor laws and pro-union legislation. They differed, however, on the subject of women’s suffrage, as Roosevelt was in favor of giving women the vote.
According to the Library of Congress’ American Memory archives, Wilson rode out of the White House gates on the morning of August 28 with his wife at his side and tipped his hat toward the protestors as usual. By this time, though, the suffragists had become increasingly disruptive and brandished anti-World War I slogans on their placards in addition to pleas for the vote and later that day the protestors and outraged bystanders who supported the war clashed. Many of the women were arrested and thrown in jail. Some of the jailed suffragists went on a hunger strike and were force-fed by their captors. Wilson, appalled by the hunger strikes and worried about negative publicity for his administration, finally agreed to a suffrage amendment in January 1918. Two years later, toward the end of Wilson’s second presidential term, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, officially giving women the right to vote.