Psychiatric Torture of Suffragists

Here’s an article detailing some of the ways that the women who protested to get the right to vote recognized by our legal system were punished. Namely, they were put in prison, then later after initiating a hunger strike, these women were locked up in psychiatric wards and tortured by having tubes forced down their throats for forced feedings, and were subjected to other brutal physical abuses.

…For five months the White House siege continued, while Congress, controlled by the Democrats, refused to act without word from the president. Still Wilson remained silent. Finally, in late June, the stalemate broke. Public anger erupted and the administration’s patience snapped when NWP pickets raised a banner highly critical of Wilson as a Russian delegation visited the White House. A hostile crowd ripped down the banner, and next morning Lucy Burns and another woman became the first picketers to be hustled away in a police patrol wagon. They were scolded for their behavior and released pending trial; four more later received the same treatment. Within a few days, those six women were convicted on the traffic obstruction charges and spent three days in jail — the first suffragists imprisoned for their cause. It was only the beginning. Early in July, 11 women — including Lucy Burns — were sent to jail. Two weeks later 16 women were stunned to get 60-day sentences, and not in the D.C. jail, but the more dreaded Workhouse for Women at Occoquan, Va.

…Once, during a police court trial, a government attorney shook his finger at Alice Paul and said, We’ll get you yet. Although she had been directing battle strategy from behind the scenes until then, he was sure that sooner or later the general would go out to lead her troops — and be captured. It happened in October 1917, when Paul was hauled off the picket line twice in two weeks and hit with the heaviest sentence to date — seven months in the D.C. jail.

There she and her companions encountered hardships rivaling Occoquan’s — no privacy; stifling, overcrowded, vermin-infested cells; a near-starvation diet that left them almost too weak to stand; close to total isolation. Privileges enjoyed by regular inmates were denied the suffragists. Washington’s Warden Louis Zinkhan was apparently competing with Occoquan’s Whittaker for the title of Most Ferocious.

Already detested by their jailers as troublemakers and traitors, the suffragists infuriated them further by demanding political prisoner status. Their claim contemptuously dismissed, they soon devised a form of resistance not so easily ignored. The moment of decision came, as Alice Paul told it:

At the end of two weeks of solitary confinement…without any exercise, without going outside of our cells, some of the prisoners were released, having finished their terms….With our number thus diminished to seven…the doors were unlocked and we were permitted to take exercise. Rose Winslow fainted as soon as she got into the yard….I was too weak to move from my bed. Rose and I were taken on stretchers that night to the hospital….Here we decided upon…the ultimate form of protest left us — the strongest weapon left with which to continue…our battle….

Their ultimate form of protest was the hunger strike. Having worked with English suffragists some years before, Paul knew from painful experience what terrors lay in that direction: From the moment we undertook the hunger strike, a policy of unremitting intimidation began. `You will be taken to a very unpleasant place if you don’t stop this,’ was a favorite threat of prison officials, as they would hint vaguely of the psychiatric ward, and the government insane asylum. Particularly frightening was examination by the alienist (a specialist in mental disorders), whose word was enough to commit anyone to the asylum.

Seriously weakened after three days of refusing food, Paul was taken to the psychiatric ward and subjected, along with some of her companions, to force-feeding three times daily. Between those feedings she endured solitary confinement in a tiny cell with boarded-up windows. This frail woman was, after all, the power behind the suffrage demonstrations. To crush them required breaking her spirit — and clearly, the authorities meant to break it.

But the government’s heavy-handed tactics only made matters worse. As reports of the prisoners’ experiences emerged, angry women flocked to Washington from across the country to join the fight and continue the picketing. In mid-November, 30 more demonstrators, drawing sentences ranging from six days to six months, were shipped to Occoquan. Grimly awaiting them was Superintendent Whittaker. Once, accused by a suffragist prisoner of practicing cruelty, he readily admitted, Very well, I am willing to practice cruelty.

You can read more about how these women were tortured simply for seeking the right to vote by going to the link at the top of this blog entry. It would be a shame after all women have fought for and the sacrifices made to allow people to equate the pharmaceutical front groups’ sham fight to pass off the MOTHERS Act campaign as something that women are crying out for, somehow a “right” that we don’t yet have…

That’s funny, I haven’t noticed a huge issue with doctors refusing to hand out drugs or call you mentally ill, in fact it seems to be the opposite. Those who complain that they weren’t given enough psychiatric treatment at one time or another tend to have three things in common: 1) They’re alive to tell about it; 2) Most are not grieving the loss of a baby who died from psychotropic drug exposure; and 3) All of those women had the right to go ask for mental health treatment and drugs from a different doctor or therapist if they so desired. No government program was required to give them access to that. (Unless you think that those women too rich for Medicaid need tax payers to buy them their pills.)


Really? Yes, because the thing women want the most is for the government to interfere more in their lives and cause them to need to go to the psychiatric ward for the confusing event of becoming suicidal and homicidal on an antidepressant but not knowing that it’s the drug and not PPD. What women are really crying out for today is for pharma to get free ads to do their diseasemongering to women and plant the seed in their mind that they may become mentally ill and should think twice about having another baby.

See all those women out there picketing in the streets in front of the White House demanding that more mothers be put on drugs? Because we obviously are too mentally ill to find our own way to the doctor’s office to get a prescription, and one third of pregnant women on psych drugs at some point during their pregnancies is too few. Or perhaps our families didn’t have a way to make sure we got our drugs and we’re just languishing around at home helplessly waiting for a knock on the door from a social worker who can check to see if we need a ride to the psychiatrist.

Or maybe what we all really need is a government bus to take us to the pharmacy monthly to pick up our pills.

Yet, amazingly (or perhaps not, if you consider the source) there are inklings of sentiments out there that The MOTHERS Act is a final step in the women’s rights movement.

Only if you think depriving women of informed consent and increasing the chance that they will have a baby who dies, or that they will commit suicide or homicide will somehow enhance their freedom. Perhaps their freedom to live in la la land, locked up in a psych ward just like Andrea Yates.

Those of us who know the dangers have to keep the fight going strong in order to prevent more babies from dying and moms going insane. Let’s not spit on the graves of our heroes who fought so hard and risked their lives to give us a voice. Speak up and let yours be heard.

One thought on “Psychiatric Torture of Suffragists

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