Upcoming Appearance: Writers Resist


Tomorrow I will participate in Writers Resist, joining my voice with other writers making a shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality and free speech. As part of more than fifty events across the globe, writers in New London will read historic and contemporary writings on the ideals of democracy and free expression. The event is free and the public is welcome to attend.

My intent is to feature writings related to, and culminating with, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting women the right to vote.

I am honored to share the microphone with these amazing writers and champions of equality: Charles Fort, Jose Gonzalez, Frederick-Douglass Knowles, Mark Lamoureux, Steve Ostrowski, Lisa Taylor, and Rhonda Ward.  Open-mic to follow if time allows.

Sunday, January 15th
2-4 pm, Free
Community Room
New London Public Library
Community Room
63 Huntington St, New London, CT

I hope to see you there, as we celebrate the importance of the written word to our democratic ideals.

Happy 132nd Birthday, Alice Paul!

Yesterday was the Centennial Anniversary of the launch of picketing the White House by the Silent Sentinels.  Today is the anniversary of the Birthday of Alice Paul, the suffrage leader and strategist who led the first non-violent civil disobedience in the United States. Today I’m sharing my sermon on Alice Paul to honor the suffragists and these two important dates in suffrage history.

“Nothing Complicated About Ordinary Equality:”
Alice Paul, Leader for Women’s Rights

It is winter.  A cold morning in early January, 1917.  But it’s not only a new day in a new year, it’s the dawning of a new tactical agenda in the fight for woman suffrage, as a line of women, wearing sashes in purple, white, and gold stand outside the White House gates.  They hold silk banners bearing pro-suffrage messages such as “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” from morning to dusk, in every kind of weather, and by doing so, the political activist landscape is changed forever. 


The Silent Sentinels, as Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman’s Party named them, led one of the most overlooked political protests in American history.  The truly first instance of nonviolent civil disobedience on American soil was the brainchild of a small, frail Quaker woman with a will of iron, and an intellect to match.

Alice Paul was born in Moorestown, New Jersey to a prominent Hicksite Quaker family.  By the time she was born in 1885, the woman suffrage movement was nearly 40 years old.  Paul claimed that she could not remember a time when the suffrage struggle was unknown to her.  She attended suffrage meetings with her mother as a young girl and was raised in the Quaker principle of gender equality. After graduating from Swarthmore College, and earning a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania in economics and sociology,  she won a fellowship to Woodbrooke, a Quaker study center near Birmingham, England.  While in England, she studied the working conditions of women, which led to her attending a lecture by Christabel Pankhurst on voting rights for women.  When Christabel took the stage, the audience shouted and heckled so loudly that she wasn’t able to give her talk, and officials had to cancel the event.  Alice Paul was horrified; she had never experienced such rudeness toward a speaker, being from a sheltered environment where Quaker men and women were able to express their views equally.  Paul’s sense of social responsibility was deeply entrenched in her religious beliefs, and she quickly became involved in a movement that was growing more and more militant. 


She was aware of this, and as when she was asked to participate in activities that would lead to a jail sentence, she grew concerned over how such actions would be perceived back home.  While Quakers believe in social equality, they are also pacifists, and Paul knew that throwing bricks, smashing windows, and imprisonment would be viewed as violent.  She was right to be worried, and even though by the end of her time with the English suffrage movement she had fought for women’s right to vote in two countries (England and Scotland), which included seven arrests, three imprisonments, and fifty-five forced-feedings–all covered in the American press–when she returned to the United States in 1910 the papers noticed that neither local suffragists nor Quakers from her community greeted Alice Paul on her arrival.  The lack of acknowledgment from her religious community unsettled Paul.  The Quakers didn’t quite know what to make of her behavior, although later they gave her opportunities to share her reasoning.  She never wavered in her support of militancy for suffrage, and even responded with an exasperated “I saw no particular sanctity in a pane of glass,” when asked if such actions were Christian.  Margaret Hope Bacon, an historian who by virtue of being a Quaker has a unique viewpoint of the Society of Friends’ treatment of Paul, states: “She took her place in a tradition of Quaker women who were so far ahead of their time that they lost patience with the Society, and yet had a major influence on later generations of Quaker women.”


While in England Paul saw that the greatest advantage to militancy in reform movements was that it established the reform as an issue.  The use of militancy granted widespread publicity, kept reform in the public eye and by the very nature of controversy caused the topic at hand to be discussed.  This well-learned lesson was remembered by Paul when she undertook suffrage work in America.

What is key here is that after Paul returned to a flagging suffrage movement in the United States, she blended her beliefs as a Quaker– keeping in mind that Quakerism is a non-Creedal faith that also embraces principles– with how she viewed working toward social reform.  This allowed her to transform civil disobedience from violent to non-violent, and establish her own form of American suffrage militancy, which then drew more press attention to the question of enfranchisement for women.   It is interesting to note that another young student was in England at the same time Paul was, and in his own writings he credited the suffrage movement with how he approached reform.  His name was Mahatma Ghandi.  Two different parts of the world, two different faiths, and two vastly different people coming to the same political conclusions, but in my history text books, and probably yours as well, only the man was mentioned for changing the political reform landscape. 


After obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912 she left for Washington, DC as a representative of the foremost national suffrage organization, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, or NAWSA.  She planned to work on their behalf for a Federal Amendment to the Constitution, which she named the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.  Several states out west, such as Wyoming and Colorado, extended voting rights to women, therefore a Federal Amendment became a possibility.  Alice Paul broke with the NAWSA in 1916 and formed the National Woman’s Party.  This was due to disagreements over her increasing use of militancy, which included such shocking tactics as parades, lobbying Congress, and soapbox speeches.  Through Alice’s maneuvers women were publicly and politically owning the streets in a way that they never had previously, and it was not entirely welcome.  But it wasn’t just tactics that the conservative, older, establishment suffrage organization found militant, it was the ideological arguments behind women voting that were radical as well.  Paul believed that women should vote simply because they were citizens, obeyed laws, and paid taxes.  NAWSA argued women should vote because they would “clean up” politics, and make them “better wives and mothers.”  No doubt Alice’s viewpoint clearly stemmed from her Quakerism. 


These same arguments are mirrored today, too.  When I hear that the reason we should help women in impoverished situations or developing countries is because women will help others, their children, their communities, I want to grit my teeth.  It’s true that they often do, but I help women because I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, not because they’ll save their community.  That’s a lot to put on any one human being’s shoulders, especially someone enduring a crisis situation.  Does our own first principle, then, make us radical?  When it comes to working on rights for women, I like to think that it does. 

So it was considered beyond the pale by many suffrage supporters, let alone anti-suffragists, that a large group of women, NOT well-behaved, were making history by standing with signs outside the White House in January, 1917, and even more so when they continued their vigil in April, as America entered World War I.  The picketing, which was at first seen as “unwomanly,” now became, in wartime, unpatriotic, and even threatening. 


Soon after declaring war the Wilson administration called a meeting with the leaders of both national suffrage organizations, and asked them to, “Lay aside your own fight and help us crush Germany, and you will find yourselves rewarded with a vote out of the nation’s gratitude.”  While  conservative NAWSA agreed to shift its organizational focus to war efforts, the militant NWP, remembering the same request by the Lincoln administration at the dawn of the Civil War, but a very different outcome at war’s end, as the Reconstruction amendments denied women the vote, patently refused.  “How long must women wait for liberty?”  The banners questioned, and how often throughout history have American women been told politically to stand down, wait your turn, it’s not your time yet, be patient, be a good girl?

The Silent Sentinels viewed Wilson’s willingness to send soldiers to fight for democracy abroad, but not support democracy for women at home, as hypocritical, and the NWP would draw attention to that hypocrisy at the gates of the White House.  The banners began to quote Wilson’s war speeches.  “We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts–for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their government.”  This led to arrests, jail time, and the brutality of forced-feedings.  We know in the end that in 1920 the 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote. 


Many women, exhausted from a 72-year-long battle, ended their political activism, but not Alice Paul.  She went on to get three law degrees, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, founded the Women’s Consultative Committee within the League of Nations, rescued Jews from the Holocaust, and initiated inclusion of sex equality in the United Nations Charter and in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  She worked on getting passage of the ERA until she died in 1977, and her life serves as an inspiration for many women–and men–engaged in political activism.  Indeed, she inspired me when I worked as a volunteer and then paid employee for several years for NOW-NJ. 

Participating in our “Black Lives Matter” witness brings back for me a flood of memories, of reclaiming the streets in a way that the suffragists did originally.  And I can’t help but notice, too, having once been offered the Chair of the NJ Domestic Violence Task Force, that we not only face the street with our banner, but that it’s right across the street, where Safe Futures is located.  I wonder what the women rebuilding their lives there think or feel when they see us with our sign, and I would like for it to be hope. 


The oppression of both people of color and women stem from the same source, and therefore it’s no accident that a rise in activism for women’s causes follows shortly after barriers for African Americans are broken down.  The first wave of the Women’s Rights Movement occurred during and after Abolition, and the second wave of Feminism after the Civil Rights Movement.  Now, to be clear, I’m not ignoring or glossing over the racism of the suffragists; there was racism in the history of the women’s movement, and there was sexism in the history of liberating African Americans from slavery and Jim Crow laws. That’s how oppression works.  As Tan-Nehisi Coates wrote so eloquently in his memoir-like letter to his son, Between the World and Me, it’s about what, and I’m paraphrasing Coates here, control people have over your own body.  The women who seek succor across the street have fled a threatening situation because they feared for their bodies.  The women who have challenged the Texas abortion clinic laws all the way to the Supreme Court have done so because they are determined to make their own choices for their bodies.   And history shows women of color are disproportionately affected by a lack of control over their bodies, even more so with the intersectionality of homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, ageism, and xenophobia.  There is oppression within oppression, and it’s an ever-spinning, bitter spiral.


Alice Paul tried to embody the best of Quakerism, and when she repeatedly found her efforts to recruit African American suffragists to march in the 1913 parade thwarted, she wrote a frustrated letter to Alice Stone Blackwell, stating, “I belong to a Quaker family which has always taken a stand for the rights of the negro and all the traditions of my family and the influence of my home are such to make me predisposed to side with, and not against, the negro in any question of race.”  Historians are now aware that it was not Alice Paul who attempted to prevent reformer Ida B. Wells-Barnett from marching with the Illinois delegates in the parade; rather, the wife of an Illinois congressman was the instrument of that hateful episode.  This isn’t to say that Alice was exempt from all the prejudices of her time, no one ever is, but she did hold herself accountable to the ideals of her faith, and more often than not she succeeded. 


Alice Paul never saw the passage of the ERA, the amendment she spent the majority of her life working to achieve, but it has seen a recent revival with the rise of the Equal Means Equal campaign.  Alice once said that to her “the women’s movement was like a mosaic, each of us puts in their own stone, and you get a great mosaic at the end.”  I would go further and say that this quote not only represents the women’s movement, but the whole of the social justice position of Unitarian Universalism, because I believe a living religious tradition that is weaved from a tapestry of many faiths is ideally positioned to lead the causes of reform into the 21st century.  Each of us adds our own piece to a cause that is vital to us, or to our historic moment in time, in some way: ending racism, aid to refugees and immigrants, marriage and economic equality for LBGTQ persons, saving the earth and environment, animal rights, reproductive rights and feminism, and through our work, we have made, and continue to make, a more equitable life for all people struggling now, and for all who follow us in the future.  What can be a more beautiful mosaic then that?    

For myself, I continue to honor Alice’s legacy and the rights she fought for me by continuing the work of feminism, and I hope to see the ERA in my own lifetime, since she didn’t see it become in reality in hers.  As she once reflected, 

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction.  Most reforms, most problems are complicated.  But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”   So mote it be.


Happy Birthday, Alice Paul!

Shared from the Pulpit of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation, New London, CT, Sunday, March 13, 2016.

“The best protection a woman can have is…

COURAGE.”  –Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It’s the 201st anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, reformer, theologian, and one of the founders of the Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Two days from now, it will be the 99th anniversary of the “Night of Terror,” the night of institutionalized brutalization of National Woman’s Party suffragists in Occoquan prison.

Earlier this week I cast my vote for the first woman nominee of a major party, and I owe these women an immense debt of gratitude for my ability to do so.

Hillary Clinton has lost her Presidential bid to an ultra-conservative candidate, and while I’m saddened, worried, and angry, I’m also too much of a historian to be all that surprised. Clinton was not so much a flawed candidate as a progressive one, and those who tend to be the “first” to break barriers are often the unradical, the moderate, the safe.

Although the history of this nation is a steady march forward for equality, for inclusion, every advancement made causes the pendulum to then swing in the opposite direction, as those who fear positive change for others scramble for some semblance of control in their own small world, which inevitably looks different; the future is always uncharted territory. Still, I’m disappointed in my fellow citizens who voted their fears, their closed minds, their hate.

Today is the 201st anniversary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the NOW (National Organization for Women) website has crashed due to high traffic. I take solace in that. We have a lot to do–we’ve always had a lot to do–but at present it feels like more than a setback, if feels as it we’ve been pushed back down a mountain we had more than half-way climbed.

I worry now about everything from healthcare to arts and humanities funding, from climate change to reproductive rights.  The rights of immigrants, the gains made by the LGBTQ community, protection of Muslims and other religious minorities as well as safety for African Americans and other People of Color: Black Lives Matter. And, of course, equality for women; I feel like the Equal Rights Amendment was within reach, and it will take even more time now to make it a reality.  I celebrate and affirm as a historian, a poet, and a feminist all of the places where our humanity meets, and I will continue to strive to achieve my progressive vision of an inclusive, loving, peaceful world.

So the new “C-word” is Courage.  And we will need gallons of it.  Veins full.  And while our spirits are dampened, and the road looks dark, we will continue like the strong, progressive women before us, Forward Into Light.

This past week’s election results and rising hate crimes from the empowered far-right have been compared to that of Brexit, and I want to point out that it’s not the first time such comparisons have been made, as can be seen by this quote from suffragist Rose Winslow, smuggled out of Occoquan Prison during her imprisonment:

“Never was there a sentence like ours for such an offense, even in England.  No woman ever got it over there even for tearing down buildings.  And during all that agitation we were busy saying that never would such things happen in the United States.  The men told us they would not endure such frightfulness.  The same doctor feeds both Alice Paul and me.  Don’t let them tell you  we take this well.  Miss Paul vomits much.  I do too.  It’s the nervous reaction, and I can’t control it much.  We think of the coming feeding all day.  It is horrible.  The doctor thinks I take it well.  I hate the thought of Alice Paul and the others if I take it well.  All the officers here know we are making this hunger strike so that women fighting for liberty may be considered political prisoners; we have told them.  God knows we don’t want other women ever to have to do this over again.”


Helena Hill Weed in prison

The “Night of Terror” perpetrated against the suffragists included beatings, broken bones, heads smashed against concrete walls in punishment cells, denial of food, water, use of a proper toilet, and denial of medical treatment, in an effort to destroy the health and spirit of these women.  It was administrative terrorism, and it did not work then.  I do not believe it will work now.

So I will light a candle and hold vigil for the brutalized suffragists–as I always do each November 14th–and I will also commit myself to the work of improving the future.  I will wear my reproduction “Jailed for Freedom” pin, which was presented by Alice Paul to suffragists who served prison time.


“Jailed for Freedom” pin

I will wear this pin to recognize my own Herstory, to remind myself where my own faith and courage comes from.  Because I stand on the shoulders of the women who have gone before me, and that includes the woman who trembled as she dared to raise her voice in a promiscuous public setting back in 1848 to demand the right to vote, who authored the “Declaration of Sentiments,” the woman whose 201st birthday is today.

And like Stanton, I will raise my voice, I will raise my pen.  I will not go gentle into that good night, I will not be well-behaved (for history is seldom made by those who are).

Instead I will spill ink.  I will be nasty, I will be courageous.   I will be her kind.

“antarctica, occluded” receives Honorable Mention

I’m pleased to announce that my poem, “antarctica, occluded” was listed as an Honorable Mention in the Louisville Literary Arts 2016 Poetry Competition.

Judge Kathleen Driskell shared her reasons for this selection:

“I felt a shiver as I read through the beginning of this poem so palpable is the poet’s ability to catch this cold setting–and then as water and whales emerge, the poem begins to wash and rock in its rhythm.  It’s difficult to tell a historical story in a poem and it’s difficult to write protest poems: this poet merges both impulses beautifully.  The ending, ‘there are more words for ice / than god,’ surprises me and at the same time is a masterful conclusion.”


The poem “antarctica, occluded” is from my manuscript “Wood to Skin,” a collection of whaling poetry.

Louisville Literary Arts is hosting their Writer’s Block Festival today and tomorrow (November 4-5, 2016) click here for more information.

Upcoming Appearance: Talk and Poetry on Early Circus Women at the East Lyme Public Library

Strange Girls:
Perspectives and Poems on the Lives of Early-1900s
Circus Women 

Join historian and poet Joanie DiMartino for a fascinating look at women who worked in the circus and sideshow at the turn of the 20th-century. Based on the research completed for her poetry collection of the same title, DiMartino will share both historical vignettes and poems inspired by these self-styled “strange girls”–women who chose to eschew the rigid social roles of their day and instead travelled throughout the country performing under the Big Top.  On with the Show!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016
7 PM, Free
East Lyme Public Library
39 Society Rd, Niantic, CT


Tiger Trainer Mabel Stark & Rajah, c. 1930.

Hartford Circus Fire Remembered, July 6, 1944



Emmet Kelly as his clown persona Weary Willie, by Ralph Emerson.

Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the Hartford Circus Fire, the worst circus tragedy in history. The Paris Review marks the occasion with an article by William Browning about the above photo, what makes it such an iconic image of the event, and the circumstances surrounding the fire.  Since Browning’s excellent writing goes into the details of the fire, I won’t do so here.  Suffice to say that I have written two poems on this tragedy; one included in Strange Girls, and one written after my sideshow/circus collection was published, as this painful event stuck with me for some time.

I don’t often read this poem at poetry readings for two reasons: the first is that I never know if a survivor or someone directly impacted by this tragedy is in the audience, and the second is that it is a difficult poem for me to get through in a reading.  I wept for days while I worked on it, and I still cannot share it at the podium dry-eyed.

“Little Miss 1565,” an unidentified girl, became the icon for the tragic loss of young life.  In this poem I sought to give her back the circus day she should have had, to alter the magic of the circus into a surrealism that would gather her up, would keep her–if only in these stanzas–safe.

I personally know two survivors of this fire, and have been both honored and humbled that they both shared their experience of that day with me.  I’m pleased The Paris Review chose to draw attention to a tragedy that should be remembered well beyond Connecticut.

Lament for Little Miss 1565

Your white dress shows smudges of mud
and sawdust footprints from your trampling,
and your white skin exhibits shoe-shaped bruises
in stunning purplish-black.

As your tender internal organs shut down,
a sweet illusion of calm steals over
your tear-stained face, framed by blonde hair in disarray,
slightly singed, like corn silk

in the height of summer. With your head cradled
on a hospital pillow, unconscious, your dreams
billow up, and you drift back under the big top,
but not the tent of parched paraffin flames

raining onto the panicked violence that separates
mother and child; rather, this circus
opens with spangle-robed elephants that rumble past,
single file, holding tails in trunks,

and pretty ladies on prancing horses with pink feathers
in their hair. You stare wide-eyed
at the acrobats, the fearless woman riding a bicycle
across the high wire, but you prefer

the clowns with big smiles and buckets of confetti,
as your giggles peal out between bites
of cotton candy. You release your balloon into air
when the trainer invites you to waltz

with her fringe-collared brown bear wearing a white
satin party hat, and you dance together
in the spotlight inside the center ring
until you rise above the animal cages,

up over bleachers, safe in the bear’s arms
as you sway past the trapeze and your yellow
balloon, while the bear twirls you higher,
through the tent’s deep blue

canvas roof toward the brilliant July sky;
higher still you whirl, over the midway Ferris wheel
into cub-shaped clouds, heading up to the sparkling
stars sculpting Ursa Minor.

–from Strange Girls, Little Red Tree Publishing, 2010.

Oddball Magazine publishes “Sea Burial”


I’m pleased to share this link to my poem, “Sea Burial,” which was published May 18th in the on-line journal Oddball Magazine.  

Click here to read my Charles W. Morgan-inspired poem, and to enjoy the accompanying artwork of a humpback whale by artist Cesar Valtierra.  The poem is based on a sad event that occurred during the 27th voyage in 1901.

 Thank you to Chad Parenteau and Jason Wright, for selecting this poem for publication.



Lament: On Losing my Sister in a Traffic Accident

Two weeks ago today my sister was driving with her two grandchildren along a highway.

According to reports, she swerved to miss a dog, lost control of her vehicle which crossed over the median into on-coming traffic, and collided head-on with an 18-wheeler.  Both she and her grandchildren were killed on impact.

I have been reeling from this news since I learned of it, only half-aware of the world around me, as my family struggles to cope with this tragic loss, near and far from where she lived.  We all have our own ways of dealing with grief, and I found solace over these past weeks in poetry.  I can only imagine the Muses  guided me when I first opened Kevin Young’s poignant, comforting anthology, as this was the poem that greeted me in the pages:

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up The Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,
their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

and my sister, entering the room quietly,
takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,
even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.
For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,
and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

domed with thin slices she brushes into
the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,
she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

–Jon Pineda, from The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, ed. by Kevin Young.

It is the poem I return to in this collection again and again; I remember conversations with my sister, most of which took place in the kitchen, with us washing dishes or preparing meals.  So it seems appropriate I honor her with these words, since as yet I have none of my own.  And for the time being, at least, I must leave off writing poems about the historic hunt by whalers, of whales.

But the words will come, eventually, and I will be transformed by them, as I have been transformed by grief.  I await the ink, like a salve.


In memory of Joanne “Jodi” DiMartino Janvier, Angelina, and Jeremy.

A “PSA” about “SBA” (Susan B. Anthony)

This image is NOT Susan B. Anthony.  This photograph, while poignant, and painful to view, is NOT Susan B. Anthony, it’s NOT a photograph of 1872, and Anthony was NOT beaten for “trying to vote.”  In fact, she succeeded that November morning in casting a ballot, afterwards writing Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Well I have been & gone & done it!”

Every March (Women’s History Month), August (Women’s Equality Day, 8/26) and November (2nd Tuesday in November) a flood of well-meaning folks post this image (and a similar one of Emmeline Pankhurst) purporting the woman in the photo to be Susan B. Anthony, in an effort to encourage women in the United States to vote.  Recently it’s been cropping up in social media due to the string of primaries, but I want to take a brief moment to set the record on this image straight.

This is an image from England, presumed to be Ada Wright, a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant faction of the English suffrage moment led by Emmeline Pankhurst (the WSPU was most recently featured in the film Suffragette (2015); see below for my review).  This photo was front page of the British paper the Daily Mirror, with the headline “Violent Scenes at Westminster Where Many Suffragettes Were Arrested While Trying to Force Their Way Into the House of Commons.” Look at the clothing of the woman, the man laughing and watching, and the officer perpetrating the attack.  The clothing worn by the woman on the ground and the male spectator sets the date well-past 1872, and the uniform attire for the officer is English. Also, handheld cameras that could capture images in a moment were a technological advancement that hadn’t yet occurred in 1872, but were available by the early 1900s, and often used by the press.

There are no photographs of Susan B. Anthony at the time she voted on November 5th, 1872.  There are no photographs of her arrest.  She was arrested in her parlor at home, and demanded handcuffs when she learned she would merely be escorted (she wished to be arrested the same way men were arrested at that time).  She was then taken to the Commissioner’s office, and the date for her trial was set.  She was not physically abused, although her rights were trampled upon, as a citizen without a voice.  Illegally voting for publicity and the ensuing court case that followed, Anthony documented her experience in detail for posterity, and it makes for great reading–there are many books on her arrest and trial that describe clearly what occurred.  While a vital piece of women’s history, it is NOT what is shown in this picture.

The English suffragettes were indeed battered publicly by the police in the early 1900s, and militant suffragists in the U.S. around the same time also experienced public abuse at the hands of mobs and later by prison guards.  We should not forget this history, and yes, these images and descriptions of what these courageous women endured should send us to the polls every opportunity we have to vote, no matter what side of the pond we live.

However, to consistently post inaccurate information leaves our history vulnerable; if we don’t value our own past, learn it, study it, understand it, and ultimately respect it, why should anyone else?

Be well.  Be historically correct.  VOTE.  Spill ink.



Text & Talkie: “Sally Heathcote: Suffragette” (2014) & “Suffragette” (2015)

Sometimes my reading selections and film viewing tend to weave together, as if I’m naturally tapping into larger cultural trends.  And when those trends happen to match my long-standing interests, or in this case, my scholarly background–oh, joy!  Such is the case with the 2014 graphic novel, Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, and the 2015 film, Suffragette. Both are situated in the militant suffrage movement in England, during the early years of the 20th century leading up to World War I.


In Sally Heathcote: Suffragette (2014) we meet the title character while she is a domestic worker in the home of Emmeline Pankhurst.  Her journey begins on the fringes of the militant suffragettes, but soon she seeks out more dramatic roles, which leads to prison time and hard choices within an increasingly polarized movement, especially as a world war looms on the horizon.

Bookended by an elderly Sally in a nursing home in the late 1960s, it’s through Sally’s eyes in a long dream that we see past events unfold, the responses and decisions of leaders of the militant faction, and her own struggle to make her voice heard both under a government that ignores women and within a movement that ostracizes internal critics.

The characters are well-rounded: Sally struggles to pay bills and loses friendships with those who disagree with her suffrage work, and the Pankhursts are as flawed in fiction as they were in real life.  The lives of male characters are weaved into the women’s; they face similar difficult choices on how to respond to the call for combat in a society that becomes increasingly militant as Europe plunges into war.

Since this is a graphic novel, I should mention the illustrations, which were extremely well-done. The book as a whole is in black and white, with subtle use of color throughout, notably Emmeline Pankhurst always appears in pale purple, and Sally’s red hair is portrayed in color throughout the book, so we can always locate our heroine in a parlor, an outdoor rally, or prison.  Sally’s prison scenes are deciphered through thick black strips, as if we’re watching her undergo forced-feeding through the bars of her cell door. One of my favorite scenes was in part III, where the suffragettes are meeting with the politicians to present their arguments, and both sides slowly morph into mice and cats respectively, a visual representation of the looming “Cat & Mouse Act,” which resulted in the random arrest and release of suffragettes by the police and prison guards.  Other stylistic and subtle use of coloring for blood, banners, street lighting, and posters effectively added to a story where visual culture was such a necessary element of the struggle.

Well-researched and documented, the book includes a lengthy annotation, or notes section, in the back of the book; however, the author informs the reader to read the notes after the novel, as the information isn’t necessary to understand the story, and may be distract from it, instead.  There is also a timeline, and a bibliography, for further delving into the history of woman suffrage and life in England in the early 1900s.


Suffragette (2015), directed by Sarah Gavron, also features a woman of the working class as the central character; however, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) works in a laundry, not as a servant.  Unlike Sally Heathcote, who is aware of the key players and concerns in the fight for suffrage for some time before she takes up the cause, Maud is an accidental suffragette, who stumbles into the movement through a militant co-worker, and only fully embraces activism when she discovers the limitations placed upon her life, simply because she’s female.  And poor.

Violence and voice played an important role in the fight for the vote, and Maud develops both simultaneously.  She does so alongside fellow street soldier suffragettes, each representing different struggles women faced at the turn of the 20th-century: Violet (Ann-Marie Duff) is an abused and ever-pregnant wife, and Edith (Helena Bonham Carter) is a physician under surveillance for her suffrage activities.

These three women support each other through serving time in prison, the loneliness of activism as each is ostracized from their community, and the difficult choices made by each woman on whether or not to continue participating in a movement that grows more and more militant.

They are buoyed by a brief appearance of their leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, a much-touted cameo by Meryl Streep (and quite possibly the only reason this film saw limited distribution in the United States) and are humbled by the fearlessness of Emily Wilding Davidson (Natalie Press), in what becomes the climax of the film.  Once it is clear to the audience that Maud’s conversion to a suffragette is complete, the film fades into actual period footage, and then to black, where a scroll lists the years each major country granted voting rights to women.  Be prepared to be shocked.  We are not as far away from this history as we think.

It was a risk by the director, script writer, and producer to feature the foot soldiers of the movement, rather than the famous, the leaders, or the wealthy, but I think it was a good choice, as most of the viewers may be unfamiliar with the toll it takes to physically take a cause to the streets year after year, with little success.  The graphic novel also demonstrates Sally’s daily challenges, but with a natural wider scope the medium was able to offer a perspective on the flawed nature of the Pankhurst dominance as well, and doesn’t let Emmeline or Chistabel off lightly for choices they made as England headed toward war.

No country’s history happens in a vacuum, and the cause of suffrage was no different. While clearly set in England, these two art forms carry within their story a glimpse of the American woman suffrage movement, too.  For example, Katherine Houghton Hepburn (yes, the mother of the actress) hosted Emmeline Pankhurst in Hartford, Connecticut in 1913, Harriot Stanton Blatch (yes, the daughter of women’s rights movement founder Elizabeth Cady Stanton) began parades in New York state inspired by those of WSPU as early as 1910, and Alice Paul fully participated in England and Scotland fighting for woman suffrage directly with the Pankhursts before returning in 1909 to take up the suffrage banner as leader of the National Woman’s Party (NWP) on American soil. Such international sharing of language, imagery, and strategy for this political cause deserves more of our time and attention, as it is vital for a deeper understanding and appreciation of women’s struggles in both countries.

And, allowing for some dramatic flair, surely, we could envision the transatlantic influence of the woman suffrage movement looking something like this:


1915 New Jersey suffragists on a tugboat publicity tour.