1917: Baltimore Suffragette, Evelyn Jones, will give everything for the cause. She’s determined to win the right to vote, no matter the consequences, though she hopes her fiancé, Myron, will stand by her as she demonstrates her convictions.
Evelyn Jones pulled the thick lapel of her coat closer around her neck. Shivering slightly, she adjusted the grip of her other hand on the sign she’d been chosen to carry. She made certain the words were pointed toward the White House, so that Mr. Wilson would be able to read them, should he glance out his window.
A small commotion came from the end of the mute line of women gathered that day. That, in itself, was only unusual because one of the Silent Sentinels was arguing back—and as they’d all gotten used to the din around them, the accusations of treason, the scoldings from men and the thousand ‘you should be ashamed of yourselves’ tossed their way every hour, the argument could only mean trouble.
Evelyn took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she knew would be coming. It wasn’t her first protest, after all. She’d survived what had come before, and she vowed to survive what came next—or, if she didn’t, she was determined to be an inspiration to those who would pick up the cause after she was gone. And they would. She knew they would. Women’s Suffrage was simply too important for the ladies to turn their backs on, no matter the consequences.
“Move along, then.” An officer waved his baton, generally shooing the women away from the White House gates. “You’re blocking the sidewalk.”
A woman nearby lifted her chin and announced in cold, determined tones, “We have the right to assemble.”
“You’re blocking traffic and, if you don’t move along, you’ll be assembled in a prison.”
“It won’t be our first arrest,” Evelyn whispered. Once again, she adjusted her grip on her sign and prepared herself for what she knew was coming. Time and time again, the men in power had demonstrated their lack of tolerance for an assembly—no matter how peaceable—of women carrying signs calling for equal voting rights.
“Blocking traffic?” Lucy Burns tossed her head. “A false charge! In reality, Mr. Wilson doesn’t wish to see us anymore!”
“A war is on, lady,” the officer yelled. “You’re committing treason!”
“We’re doing no such thing. The First Amendment guarantees—”
The argument at the end of the line grew louder, the angry tones of all involved developing a snap that Evelyn took to be a bad omen. The clenching deep in her stomach seemed to agree with her dark thoughts.
After that, commotion became chaos, and her premonition of violence became a historical event.
Evelyn was grabbed by bruising hands. The man who threw her into the police vehicle was strong enough that she feared she’d burst right out through the opposite side, as she crashed hard and lay dazed. Half-sprawled across Helena, Evelyn was just beginning to push herself upright when Mabel landed on top of her.
Dread pulled Evelyn’s stomach taut. Something was different this time, more openly violent, perhaps. Or perhaps it was the gleam in the policeman’s eyes—a mix of frustration, confusion and anticipation. It sent chills through her.
“Stay strong, ladies! We’ve done this before.” Lucy’s call became a rallying cry in Evelyn’s heart, but the words were proven false in such a short time.
Superintendent Whittaker was waiting for them. Evelyn had been to the workhouse twice before, arrested unlawfully both times on minor charges of obstructing traffic. Whittaker believed the ladies should be treated no differently than the rest of the prisoners, in spite of their economic class or divine purpose. He was a hard man, but he’d never before assembled so many male guards to usher them into the workhouse.
A new set of hard hands ripped Evelyn from the vehicle. The guard spit at her, leaving a slimy trail to wend its way down her cheek. “Traitor!” he screamed. “Treasonous bitch! Our president has more to worry about than you and your stupid tantrums. Women’s vote? There’s a war on, you simple cunt!”
He tossed her from him like garbage and, like garbage, she fell. But another man was there, his cruel fingers twisting in her hair, tearing it from the pins holding it in place, snatching individuals strands from her scalp in a wave of rapid-fire pain-pricks. He hauled her to her feet and shoved her toward the door.
She slammed against the wall and watched as other women were treated just as harshly, if not more so. They were forcibly stripped by the few female guards at the workhouse, then doused with cold water as the men looked on. Several of the ladies refused to don the garments they’d been given. The guards became more hostile, the women beaten and kicked, slapped and punched. Then it was Evelyn’s turn.
The fist caught her in the jaw. Shock and pain made her numb for a crucial instant—a breathless moment where her lungs fought to remember their duty. Tears blurred her vision, and it was only too late that she saw the bars heading straight for her face. The cold metal rods smashed into her cheek, adding to the fire catching along her nerves.
Evelyn gasped. She was still struggling for breath when the guard pushed her with a hard hand between her shoulder blades. She tumbled to the floor. He kicked out, his heavy boot finding her ribs with a crack that almost convinced her he’d broken them, but she knew he hadn’t, in spite of the blaze of agony streaking over her torso. She turned and crawled, her hand flat to the floor, inching her body from the guard’s attack with the aid of her toes.
He caught her, lifted her and slammed her back down. A broken sound grunted from between her lips. The guard leaned over, slapped her face. He drove his fingers into her hair and dragged her along the concrete floor toward a cell. Around her, other women were already imprisoned—lying on the floor, gasping like fish, and huddled together in solidarity, facing the brutality of their guards. Poor Lucy was handcuffed to her cell’s bars, her arms locked in place above her head.
As Evelyn was tipped toward her own cell, she saw a different guard raise one of the ladies’ protest signs and wield it like a club. He brought it down on the woman—with her back turned, curled in a ball as she was, Evelyn couldn’t identify her.
Without thought to the consequences, Evelyn turned and fought her guard. Determined to get to her compatriot, intent on stopping the brutality, she kicked out, slamming her short, stout shoe heel against the guard’s shin. He snarled and punched her, knocking her backward. She was still trying to catch her balance when he shoved her into the wall. Ears ringing, spots flashing in her eyes, Evelyn slid to the floor.
The guard stepped into the cell. Dazed and uncoordinated, Evelyn stared up at him as he wrestled with his belt. Sneering, he threw the movement’s slogans back into her face with a malicious twisting of the words. “For the taxes you pay and the laws you don’t obey. By the time I’m through with you, you’ll have nothing to say.”
Hardly able to move through the pain in her head or the tearing need to vomit, Evelyn simply closed her eyes. The sounds of torture all around her lasted far into the night.
In fact, they lasted weeks.