Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage


Image: Alice Paul, Founder of Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage


A more radical organization of suffragists which initially functioned under the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) was founded in 1913 by Alice Paul (Weatherford 196).  Paul was an educated New Jersey Quaker in her twenties at the time the organization was founded (Kraditor 231). Other prominent members of the organization included Lucy Burns, Mary Beard, Dora Lewis, and Crystal Eastman (Weatherford 197).  The CU’s mandate was exclusively focused on the federal amendment.  The CU women succeeded in lobbying western politicians to reintroduce the Susan B. Anthony amendment, which was eventually ratified in 1920. 


The organization “attracted young radicals and upset the staid national leadership,” with their controversial methods of direct action and creative demonstration (Mead 164).  The CU famously picketed the white house, resulting in many arrests of their members.  The CU’s methods of protest came under frequent criticism from the more conservative NAWSA, who were wary of violent, British-style militancy within their umbrella organization (Mead 165).  Additionally, the CU’s adamant focus on constitutional reform was difficult to reconcile with the NAWSA reliance on state rights in their “southern strategy” (Mead 165).  The CU took a partisan position in opposition to Wilson’s democrats, while the NAWSA lobbied the support of politicians from both parties (Weatherford 201).  The NAWSA’s conflict with the CU eventually lead to the congressional group disbanding from the NAWSA to form the Woman’s Party in 1916, in hopes that their lobbying would be more effective as an independent organization (Kraditor 231).  The CU felt limited by the NAWSA’s conservative approach to protest.  According to Aileen S. Kraditor, the CU “felt that the suffrage movement could not triumph within a reasonable time as long as it adhered to its old principles” (Kraditor 231).  It was after separating form the NAWSA that the Woman's Party's methods of protest became increasingly aggressive, in emulation of British suffrage strategies.  Upwards of 200 women who were members of the Party were arrested during White House demonstrations, nearly half of whom were jailed (Weatherford 218).  Lucy Burns led the imprisoned women on a hunger strike in 1917, which led to the forcible feeding that eventually gained the women public sympathy when their experience was reported in the press (Weatherford 218).   


Though the CU is typically credited with gaining the constitutional amendment through their lobbying and protest, some historians, including Sarah McClendon credit the NAWSA's more moderate and consistent lobbying at least partially with congressional acceptance (McClendon, 53). 


Works Cited


Buhle, Mari Jo and Paul Buhle.  The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections From History of Woman Suffrage. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005.


Kraditor, Aileen S.. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920. New York: Columbia  University Press, 1965.


Mead, Rebecca J.. How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868 - 1914. New York: New York University Press, 2004.


Weatherford, Doris. A History of the American Suffragist Movement. Santa Barbara: The Moschovitis Group, 1998.


McClendon, Sarah. "The Women's Movement Across Generations." A Voice of our Own. Ed. Nancy M. Neuman. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1996.