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Reimagining the Suffrage Movement in Time of War

Many NWP members like Paul herself were Quakers, or like Mary Pattison, were pacifists who opposed the War, and were determined to carry on the suffrage campaign. The NAWSA leadership, on the other hand, offered the organization’s services to President Wilson, even before the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. In New Jersey, Lillian Feickert offered NJWSA’s support to Governor Walter E. Edge, immediately supplying the names of women who would volunteer as doctors and nurses to support the war effort. Feickert herself was appointed vice-chair representing NJSWA of the New Jersey Division of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. She appointed a committee of five suffragists to lead an effort to sell Liberty Loan war bonds, which continued throughout the war period. The group also oversaw the implementation of a Food Administration program that urged homeowners to sign pledge cards committing themselves to conserve food. On April 24, 1917, members of the Equal Suffrage League of Middlesex County held a big meeting in Metuchen where Feickert urged local leagues to unite with Red Cross chapters in their towns. This was a time when women could prove their ability to help in a crisis. In New Brunswick, the Equal Suffrage Club supported a service club in the basement of the Second Reformed Church. The club was patronized by soldiers and sailors who used the reading and recreation rooms, and attended weekly dances. Local organizations provided newspapers, magazines, writing paper, refreshments, volunteers, and financial support.

The NWP continued its Silent Sentinel campaign, which became increasingly provocative. On Bastille Day, July 14, 1917, sixteen women including four from New Jersey were arrested picketing in front of the White House carrying a banner carried proclaiming “America Is Not a Democracy. Twenty Thousand Million Women Are Denied the Right to Vote,” and were sentenced to sixty days in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia on the charge of obstructing traffic. Although they were pardoned by Wilson three days later, picketing continued through the summer, with women occasionally roughed up by the crowd who considered them unpatriotic in wartime. In October, Alice Paul started picketing and was sentenced to seven months in jail. In a special picket protesting her imprisonment, Phoebe Scott Persons (1878–1959) of Montclair joined the group, and was among those arrested and taken to Occoquan. At Occoquan, the women experienced horrendous treatment including beating and confinement. The women demanded to be treated as political prisoners, as suffrage advocates were in Great Britain, or they refused to eat. Alice Paul and several other women were force-fed, a shockingly violent procedure where the prisoner was tied down, and a tube was forced through her nose, through which a thick liquid was poured. Force-feeding resulted in broken teeth, bleeding, vomiting, and choking on food going into suffragists’ lungs, and left many with chronic injuries from damage to tissues in the nose and throat. After the National Woman’s Party took legal action, all the women were released in late November.

NJWSA continued to distance itself from the National Woman’s Party’s activities.

Instead, NJWSA continued its strategy of winning friends through supporting the war effort. In October 1917, NJWSA began its major war-related project, a soldiers’ club at the newly-opened Camp Dix training camp in Wrightstown, New Jersey. Even though Wrightstown was fifty miles away, Middlesex County suffragists took their turn serving as hostesses at the club.

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Red Cross Certificate

Minnie Adams received this commendation in 1967 for reorganizing the Sewaren Equal Suffrage League as a Red Cross unit during the First World War.

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Occoquan Workhouse

Wearing prison uniforms, Doris Stevens of Nebraska, Alison Turnbull Hopkins of Morristown, N.J., and Eunice Dana Brannan of New York are seen on the rooftop of the notorious Occoquan workhouse in Virginia. Hopkins, state chairman of the National Woman’s Party, was arrested on Bastille Day, July 14, 1917, for picketing and sentenced to 60 days in Occoquan; she was pardoned after three days.

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Women’s Overseas Hospital

The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association was one of several NAWSA branches to raise money to send and maintain a hospital unit completely staffed by women to France in February 1918.

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Profile: Mary Pattison

Mary Stanahan Hart Pattison (1869–1951), known as “Molly,” was a writer, reformer, feminist, and suffragist from Colonia, New Jersey. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, although her parents moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey and then to Metuchen shortly after her birth. Mary Hart married Frank Pattison, a Rutgers engineering graduate, in 1893, and they had two children. Mary Pattison herself became a “domestic engineer,” who sought to bring new technology into the home. Under the auspices of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, she opened a State Housekeeping Experiment Station in her home. She hoped to solve the major problems of the day: the high cost of living, the servant shortage, and “to eliminate drudgery.” Her book, Principles of Domestic Engineering, published in 1914, was based on these experiences. Pattison believed that men and women should work side by side in the “great Civic household.”

Pattison and her husband were ardent progressives. They advocated for better working conditions, improved housing for the poor, prison reform, the abolition of child labor, and women’s suffrage. In 1912, Mary Pattison helped found the Women’s Progressive Party, along with Margaretta De Mott and Emma McCoy of New Brunswick, and Alice Carpender (1850–1927). Pattison also headed the Women’s Campaign Committee for Everett Colby’s failed bid for New Jersey governor in 1913. In 1915, she was elected secretary of the New Jersey branch of the Congressional Union, Alice Paul’s radical suffrage group. In 1915, Pattison also became the district chair for the New Jersey Women’s Peace Party, which worked for a peaceful end to World War I. In 1949, at the age of eighty, she published Colonia Yesterday, one of the earliest local histories of any American community.