Today in 1917, 28-year-old Connecticut activist and women’s suffrage advocate Catharine Flanagan was arrested for picketing in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. Flanagan and a small group of fellow suffragists had been picketing for twelve days in the same location, carrying a variety of banners bedecked in purple and gold (the colors of the Women’s Suffrage movement) with provocative messages like “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?”
On August 17, Flanagan and five other women were arrested on charges of obstructing traffic and unlawful assembly. Flanagan, in hopes of drawing the maximum amount of attention to her cause, refused to pay a modest fine for her alleged crimes, opting to serve thirty days of jail time in a Virginian workhouse instead. Her tactic worked: Newspapers across the country published constant updates about the sensational story of Flanagan and her fellow “respectable,” upper-class women toiling in a filthy workhouse hundreds of miles away from their homes, and editorial pages were flooded with sympathetic letters in support of the brave suffragists who, by all accounts, appeared to be serving out a disproportionately harsh punishment for their peaceful protests.
After being released from jail six days early on account of good behavior, Catherine Flanagan declared she was ready to immediately return to the picket line, “”I feel that it is a little thing to do toward the accomplishment of such a great purpose, especially since it seems to be the only thing left for us [suffragists] to do now.” Three years later, her tireless efforts were justly rewarded: After Connecticut ratified the 19th Amendment which codified women’s right to vote, Flanagan was chosen to return to Washington — this time, to present the state’s official ratification document to the U.S. Secretary of State.
Steve Thornton, “Women of the Prison Brigade,” connecticuthistory.org