Throwback Thursday: The Massachusetts Congressman Who Did Not Want Women to Vote

On this day, 10 women were arrested for picketing the White House. A Massachusetts Congressman who didn’t support them accidentally gave them a name.

Suffragettes picket the White House. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Suffragettes picket the White House. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Ninety-seven years ago today, 10 women were arrested for picketing outside the White House. For months, hundreds of suffragettes had stood outside President Wilson’s home, protesting his refusal to support an amendment that would give women the right to vote. They have come to be known sometimes as “iron-jawed angels,” thanks in part to a Hillary Swank TV movie by that title and in part to the Massachusetts Congressman who first referred to them by that name.

… Except he didn’t mean it as a compliment.

In January 1917, women began standing outside the White House to pressure President Wilson to support their cause. He treated them respectfully, but when the United States entered World War I, the women’s protests grew more provocative. How could Wilson support a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” as he said, when women in the U.S. remained disenfranchised?

Some of the women who were arrested through those later months went on hunger strikes and were force-fed in prison. President Wilson grew nervous that he might lose public sympathy. At the same time, he warmed to the idea of an amendment. In September, the House of Representatives created a committee to explore adoption of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Representative Joseph Walsh of Massachusetts was not happy about it. According to a New York Times report:

Representative Walsh of Massachusetts opposed the measure, declaring that it would be yielding to ‘the nagging of iron-jawed angels.’ and said the White House pickets were ‘bewildered, deluded creatures with short skirts and short hair.’

Though he had an ear for branding, Walsh was on the wrong side of history. In January 1918, a year after protesters decamped to his doorstep, Wilson gave his support to the amendment. In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, officially giving women the right to vote.

Meanwhile, in 1922, Walsh was appointed a justice to the state Superior Court. He died in 1946, perhaps realizing by then (or perhaps not) that his reference to the women who pushed for the vote as “nagging,” “iron-jawed,” and “short haired” would, in retrospect, feel more like rallying cry than a criticism.

  • Tony

    I was under the impression that after the House and Senate had their votes, the approval by 3/4s of the states is required before an amendment to the US Constitution is accepted.
    But then faced with PMS enduring, deluded creatures with short skirts exposing their hairy legs and short hair, the macho men of the 1919 that were in Congress wilted like an ice cream cone in the hot summer sun.

    BTW How many of the these picketing women served in combat during WW I.
    The answer is zero.

    • zeebi

      I don’t know if you meant this ironically or not, but that whole mess you wrote up there is just gross.

      • Tony

        The point that I was attempting to make was that Congress does not have the final say on constitutional amendments. A right that is reserved to the states.
        The PMS and additional terms of endearment were meant to stir up the hairy legged females of the E. Warren group.

        • zeebi

          I understood both your points the first time.

          On the one hand, I spent some time reading up on constitutional law, which isn’t really my area. It was really interesting to check up on your facts, so thank you for that.

          On the other hand, you’re not changing my mind here. You could have said
          “Actually, making an amendment is a two-part process. Congress approved the amendment in 1919, but it didn’t become part of the constitution until 8/26/1920.”
          That would have corrected the oversimplification in the last sentence of the article. Instead, you wrote as if the 19th amendment wasn’t adopted quite legally, with hefty doses of insults and misdirection.

          You haven’t changed my mind – your behavior in that comment is still vile. That kind of comment is beneath you.


          • Tony

            Please re-read my original post. At no time did I claim that the 19th amendment was adopted illegally.
            It appears that I should have taken into cccount the Harvest Moon and the Aurora Borealis effects of the mentally challenged women under the influence of hormonal changes due to PMS. MY apologies.
            Thank you for researching the date of adoption of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.
            What I hope is that the 19th Amendment be repealed before the United States plunges into an economic abyss due to the many ill-conceived programs tailored to win the female vote.
            In 2010 Charlie Baker lost the woman vote to Deval Patrick by over 20%. Anyone who engages in a conversation with Deval quickly understands that he is talking to a hypocrite, cretin/imbecile.

          • zeebi

            Still a troll then. That’s too bad.