The Founding of the National Woman’s Party

By Casey Terry – Loyola University Chicago, Masters in Public History Program, Fall 2019.

Women at the founding of the National Woman’s Party at the Blackstone Theater, 1916. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jun 06, 5.

One of the most important groups formed in the U.S. to fight for women’s political rights was the National Woman’s Party. The National Woman’s Party (NWP) grew out of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA led the suffrage movement nationally for many years. Suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were active in NAWSA and were appointed to NAWSA’s Congressional Committee in 1912 [1]. But they felt limited by what they saw as NAWSA’s traditional methods and advocated for more militant tactics. In 1916, they split from NAWSA and formed the National Woman’s Party to fight for suffrage and, after the passing of the 19th Amendment, for women’s rights more broadly.

The National Woman’s Party (NWP) was founded at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago in 1916 during the Republican National Convention [3]. Miss Maude Younger of California delivered the keynote speech which stated that the party had “one flag, no candidate, and one plank– the enfranchisement of women by an amendment to the federal constitution” [4]. The suffrage movement had lost faith in President Woodrow Wilson during his first term because he was unable to pass a suffrage amendment [5]. The party’s standard for an ideal president was Theodore Roosevelt, and members attacked Wilson by comparing him to the former president. In their eyes, Roosevelt was a president who followed through on his promises and was clear-sighted in his goals [6].

Party leaders attending convention of the National Women’s Party. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jun 07, 5.

At this convention, the various suffrage groups were given time to debate the suffrage plank before the Committee of Resolutions in the Coliseum, the convention venue [7]. Over 11,000 conventioneers heard the suffragists argue for granting the right to vote to women and the need for the party to include it in its plank [8]. The NWP debaters expressed support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and other suffragists felt that aiming for a federal amendment would kill the suffrage movement altogether.

Antoinette Funk, a NAWSA supporter from Illinois, claimed that although women should have the right to vote, with the World War in progress, women needed to focus on America and the war effort first [9]. In Mrs. Funk’s eyes, this would not happen if a women’s political party was formed and if the focus was a federal amendment. Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of NAWSA, called the NWP’s plan “suicidal” for suffrage. Catt claimed that adding a suffrage plank to the Republican Party’s platform would make it a partisan issue which the Democrats would refuse to put through [10]. She believed that the way to get the vote was by targeting individual states.

The National Woman’s Party focused its energy on the national amendment and their goal was finally achieved in August of 1920. Although they had achieved their immediate goal, the NWP continued its work for equality for women by proposing the Equal Rights Amendment just three years later [11]. The suffrage movement did not stop with the right to vote, but continued on as a struggle for women’s equal rights.

Women preparing for the 1920 Republican National Convention. Washington D.C. Library of Congress Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/91482183/.

Note: The National Woman’s Party still exists today- visit their website for more. To find out more and to visit the historic home of the National Woman’s Party, visit the website of Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument.

Notes

[1] “Historical Overview of the National Womans Party”: Articles and Essays: Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party: Digital Collections: Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/historical-overview-of-the-national-womans-party/.

[2] Ibid.

[3]”Birth Of The Woman’s Party: Blackstone Theater, Chicago, June 5,1916, Mothered By The Aggressive Congressional Union Woman’s Party, First In World, Born In Chicago “One Flag, No Candidate, One Plank,” And That: U. S. Suffrage Amendment.” 1916.Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), June 5, 2006. http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/174088445?accountid=12163

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Historical Overview of the National Womans Party”

[6] “Birth Of The Woman’s Party.”

[7]”G. O. P. Committee To Hear Women In Main Coliseum: Suffrage And Preparedness Arguments Can Be Heard By 11,000 Spectators.”  1916. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jun 06, 5.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Mrs. Funk Raps Woman’s Party: Suffrage Chief Says Nation’s Crisis Comes Before The Ballot.” 1916.Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), June 13, 2003. http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/174112695?accountid=12163.

[10] “Woman’s Party Plan Is Suicidal, Mrs. Catt Holds: Demand For Amendment Will Make Suffrage Partisan Issue, She Asserts.” 1916.Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), June 5, 2007. http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/174113299?accountid=12163.

[11] “Historical Overview of the National Woman’s Party.”

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