New Criticals

The official response was predictable. It expected the suffragists to be patient, high-minded, and morally superior to their enemies, even in matters of life and death. Lloyd George complained that "the action of the Militants is alienating sympathy from the women's cause in every quarter." Sir Almroth Wright wrote the 1912 pamphlet Militant Hysteria: "Is it wonder if men feel that they have had enough of the militant suffragist, and that the State would be well rid of her if she were crushed under the soldiers' shields like the traitor woman at the Tarpeian rock?"

Even if it might have been public outrage after the Night of Terror, and not the pickets or bonfires, that spurred the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, still, civil rights are not always won by peaceful protest. (See, also, the American Civil War.) More importantly, we must consider what the history of women’s suffrage can tell us about the chilling effects of state violence on even the most peaceful forms of dissent.  By contrast, there is no doubt that the militant suffragists committed acts of terrorism. What if we imagine a world where a feminist bomber’s actions might be validated by the passage of laws—constitutional amendments!—affirming her civil rights and liberties? It’s the world that our foremothers imagined, a hundred years old and hatted.

Imagine Sojourner Truth, suffragist, baring her breasts to her white male hecklers to prove that strength, rhetorical genius, and black womanhood were entirely consistent. Imagine Constance Bulwer-Lytton, suffragist, protesting her suffering in Holloway Prison by carving a “V” for “Votes for Women” into her breast. Imagine Cecily McMillan free.