33 of the Day-- Suffering Suffragettes
The Night of Terror occurred on November 14, 1917 at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia.
A group of 33 female protesters, members of the Silent Sentinels who picketed the White House daily to ask for voting rights for women, were brutally tortured and beaten by the workhouse guards and the superintendent, W.H. Whittaker. These women were mostly members of the National Woman's Party (NWP), an organization led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns that fought for women’s suffrage.
In 1917 the Silent Sentinels became the first organization to picket the White House, asking for women’s rights. They held banners denouncing President Woodrow Wilson and burned copies of his speeches, because they considered him to be an enemy of the women’s rights movement.
The unrelenting suffragists, who began protesting in January when Wilson took office, were prompted by the chief of police to stop picketing. The women did not stop, and arrests for "obstructing traffic" began in June. The women were imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse. After three days the women were released and they went back to the White House to continue protesting.
By November arrests began again, and on November 14, superintendent of the workhouse, W.H. Whittaker welcomed the 33 returning prisoners by brutally torturing and beating the women.
This brutal greeting is known as the "Night of Terror", but it was not the only time the women were mistreated during their imprisonment. There was continued mistreatment in the form of harsh living conditions, rancid food, being denied medical care when many of the women were ill and some very old, being denied visitors, and "punishment cells". Many women went on a hunger strike, sparked by the co-founder of the NWP, Alice Paul. These women were placed in solitary confinement and subject to force-feeding.
After about two weeks, a court-ordered hearing for charges against the women suffragists took place. The decision of the hearing declared that every one of the 218 suffragists had been illegally arrested, illegally convicted and illegally imprisoned. The Night of Terror was not addressed in the hearing. The women who were illegally imprisoned and tortured for picketing were aiming to promote women’s rights, and they were backed by the National Woman’s Party. However, when the Nineteenth Amendment for women's rights was passed in 1920, very little credit was given to the NWP.