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A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot

Alice Paul in 1914

[From Chapter Sixteen: Night of Terror]

Authorities took steps to ensure that Alice would no longer hold court from her prison window. They transferred her to the jail's psychiatric ward and held her incommunicado. The prison physician, Dr. J.A. Gannon, ordered one of her two windows nailed shut from top to bottom and an iron-barred cell door installed. One morning, through the second window, she spied the face of an old man who was standing atop a ladder. He explained apologetically that he had instructions to cover the opening with boards. As he pounded nails, she watched his face gradually disappear and her room grow darker.

Intrepid Alice experienced an unfamiliar sensation. "I confess I was afraid of Dr. Gannon." He visited each day with a threatening message. "I will show you who rules this place." A nurse entered hourly and beamed an electric light full onto her face. Mental patients peered constantly through the bars. The prison alienist, as psychiatrists were then called, visited often. The forced feedings continued.

One day a young intern arrived to take a blood test. When Alice protested, he told her with a sneer, "You know you're not mentally competent to decide such things." She wondered if indeed she was going crazy.

Through the night she heard shreiks and moans. She told herself, "I'll pretend these moans are like an elevated train, beginning faintly in the distance, getting louder as it came near." She was grateful to friendly nurses who reassured her that she was not insane.

After Alice's note that she was headed for a "delightful rest," Tacie and Helen, knowing better, hurried to Washington, but the prison turned them away....

Malone wrangled a visit to his notorious client. Miss Paul, he told the press afterward, was "more sane than any of the administration officials who have been responsible for this outrage." He demanded that "this malicious attempt to discredit Miss Paul's leadership and to reflect on her sanity in placing her in a psychopathic ward, surrounded by maniacs, cease at once, and that she be removed forth with." The next day Alice was taken to the prison hospital. But the forced feedings went on as before.

"Don't let them tell you we take this well," wrote Rose Winslow in a smuggled note. "Miss Paul vomits much. I do too,except when I'm not nervous, as I have been every time but one. The feeding always gives me a severe headache. My throat aches afterward, and I always weep and sob, to my great disgust, quite against my will. I will try to be less feeble minded."