On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gives a speech before Congress in support of guaranteeing women the right to vote. Although the House of Representatives had approved a 19th constitutional amendment giving women suffrage, the Senate had yet to vote on the measure.
Wilson had actually maintained a somewhat lukewarm attitude toward women’s suffrage throughout his first term (1913-1917). In 1917, he had been picketed by suffragists outside the White House who berated him for paying mere lip service to their cause. The protests reached a crescendo when several women were arrested, jailed and went on a hunger strike. Wilson was appalled to learn that the jailed suffragists were being force-fed and he finally stepped in to champion their cause. Suffragists and their supporters agreed that Wilson had a debt to pay to the country’s women, who at the time were asked to support their sons and husbands fighting overseas in the First World War and who were contributing to the war effort on the home front. In his September 30 speech to Congress, Wilson acknowledged this debt, saying “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”
Wilson’s stirring words on that day failed to drum up the necessary votes to pass the amendment. The bill died in the Senate and it would be another year before Congress finally passed the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.