Banner Drop

Title

Banner Drop

Description

If you’ve ever snuck in somewhere to conduct a secret mission, you know how hard Mabel Vernon’s heart was pounding on December 5, 1916. She was wearing a long cape. It was cold out, so being bundled up wouldn’t arouse suspicion of the U.S. Capitol guards. Direct action 🧵

Pres. Wilson was set to deliver his annual Congressional address, what we now call the State of the Union. When he began addressing Congress in person in 1913, he was the first president since John Adams to do so. It was a hit, so he continued to do it every December.

Repeated delegations of women had been lobbying him to mention suffrage publicly since he took office, but he stubbornly refused. Mabel and the other Congressional Union members accompanying her knew today would be no different. With Mabel were Anna Lowenburg, a Philadelphia Jewish immigrant; Dr. Caroline Spencer of Colorado Springs; Elizabeth Rogers, whose brother-in-law was Secretary of War; and Florence Bayard Hilles, whose father had been Secretary of State.

The group had lined up early to get choice seats. They sat in the front row of the gallery, looking out at 100s of Congressmen arrayed before them. Every single one a white man. When the president began to speak, Mabel reached under her cloak and unpinned a giant yellow banner.

They didn’t have a precise signal for the banner drop. Wilson gave them their cue when he began speaking of his support for expanding the rights of the men of Puerto Rico: “The present laws governing the island and regulating the rights and privileges of its people are not just.”

Mabel stretched the banner down the row, each woman held on to a tab, and they flung it over the balcony. “MR PRESIDENT, WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE?”

Wilson hesitated a moment, smirked, then continued as if they weren’t there. Guards rushed upstairs but were blocked by women stationed at the stairwells-among them Lucy Burns & Elizabeth Colt. It took a House page 3 tries to jump high enough to yank the banner from their hands.

They were not arrested - white privilege at work - and they had fully upstaged Wilson. They made headlines nationwide, thanks to a press plan the anti-suffrage New York Times sniffed was “carefully planned.”

👇Front page, Billings (MT) Gazette.

A week later, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which had been stuck in the Judiciary Committee for years, was sent to the full House for a vote. #19thAmendment #Suffrage100 #VotesforWomen

Creator

Daily Suffragist

Date

14/08/2020

Files

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Citation

Daily Suffragist, “Banner Drop,” Daily Suffragist, accessed March 9, 2021, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/484.

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