Women’s History

Women’s suffrage was a movement aimed at the voting rights of women. Prior to the 19th amendment, women were not allowed to vote. It was a worldwide movement and with the 19th amendment, women were granted the right to vote in the US. The 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920. The struggle continues in some countries. For example, Women’s Rights in Afghanistan have teetered back and forth. Afghan women officially gained equality under the 1964 constitution. But then in 1990, due to the Taliban, these rights were taken away. But it wasn’t just their right to vote, it included the right to an education.

Suffragettes were the term for the women who picketed and stood up for women’s rights. Many went to prison for their protests and crimes. Hunger strikes were the non-violent protests they could carry out in prison. It was initially started by Marion Wallace Dunlop in 1909. After 91 hours of fasting, she was released from prison because the authorities were afraid, she might die. Following Marion’s lead other suffragettes, also in prison, decided to go on hunger strikes.

Authorities then tried forcible feeding. Prisoners were held down while the warden, wardresses, and other medical staff forced rubber tubes down their throats. They were forced mixtures of milk, eggs, and other liquid foods. The suffragettes suffered broken teeth, bleeding, vomiting, and sometimes the tube was improperly inserted, and the mixture went into their lungs. While no one died in prison, others died from the ramifications after release.

Soon, men went on hunger strikes as they were appalled by the brutal treatment of vulnerable women. These male supporters of voting rights for women belonged to the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement. It was the men’s counterpart to the Suffragettes movement.

Then came the Cat & Mouse Movement. Prison authorities would let the suffragettes out until they were better and then collect them to finish their sentences. Many would go on the run and stay in safe houses. Leaders of the Women’s Social and Political Union rewarded suffragette prisoners with military-style campaign medals. Those who served terms of imprisonment with hunger strike were presented with Hunger Strike Medals, such as the one pictured here.

I am thankful for my right to work, the suffragettes, and many nurses who fought for women’s rights, and what I enjoy today. From Florence Nightingale to the Crimean War – I am a nurse and I have so many women leaders to be thankful for.

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Sharon Zell NP