I wanted the second part of this series to follow a subject I have had little prior experience in but interesting enough to capture my attention. And thanks to the latest episode of Sherlock (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I have a topic in mind. Women’s suffrage.

It’s a topic that most people have heard briefly but never really bothered to delve into, and while there are many heroines (and heroes) to discuss, I’d like to focus on one group in particular.

2/52: The Silent Sentinels

silent-sentinals

For two and half years, 6 days a week, the Silent Sentinels would protest outside President Woodrow Wilson’s office, demanding that women be give the right to vote in America. They did so without uttering a single word, holding banners to spread their message:

“Democracy should begin at home”

“Kaiser Wilson, have you forgotten your sympathy with the poor Germans because they were not self governed? 20,000,000 American women are not self-governed. Take the beam out of your own eye.”

“We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts–for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.”

Their protest went largely ignored for the first four months. President Wilson would often smile or tip his hat in amusement, even going as far as offering them coffee. But in April 1917, after America joined World War 1, the public began to turn on them. It was unpatriotic to not support a war-time president. Some quietly disagreed, others hurled insults. But when their verbal abuse turned physical, the police would often turn a blind eye, leaving the women at the mercy of the angry crowds

By June 1917, the police began arresting the Sentinels for “obstructing traffic”. Everyday a new batch of protestors would be sent to Occoquan Workhouse and everyday, a new batch of protestors would replace them.

Their jail terms started at 3 days, which slowly grew to 15 and by August that year, the women were serving 60 days for each infraction brought against them.

Conditions in Occoquan were harsh. Food served was rotten. Prison clothes too thin to withstand the cold nights. Disease spread quickly amongst the overcrowded prison cells.

But it was pale in comparison to what was next. Alice Paul was arrested on October 20, 1917 and sentenced to 7 months in jail. Alice was a headstrong woman who knew how to stand her ground. In defiance, she initiated a hunger strike with her other prisoners.

Incensed, the prison wardens threw her into solitary confinement and began to force feed the prisoners through tubes shoved down their throat. The concoction chosen was raw eggs, mixed with milk. This culminated in the 14th of November, 1917, which would eventually be come to known as the.

Forcefeeding

Night of Terror

On orders by the prison warden, nearly forty guards terrorized the women. They were punched, kicked and dragged by the hair. After beating Lucy Barns, they chained her to her cell’s gate and left her hanging overnight. Dora Lewis was thrown around her room and smashed her head into the hard metal bed frame. Upon seeing Dora’s bleeding skull and thinking she was dead,  Alice Cosu had a heart attack.

The story shocked the nation and 10 days later, all the women were released and pardoned. Unfazed, they continued their silent protest for another two years, before the constitution was amended to give all women the right to vote.

This domain has been under my care for 8 years now and although it makes a great conversation starter when I present my business card, I’ve never actually used it for anything else.

I’m hoping to change that this year. So as part of my new year resolutions, I am going to learn and share something new I’ve learnt, every week for the next 52 weeks.

1/52 : Why does the new year begin on January 1st?

It sounds like a really daft question; when else could the new year possibly start? Well, up till 1752 the British new year began on the 25th of March, but before that the Egyptians would celebrate it in September and the Greeks at the start of December.

In fact, the history of calendars is so interesting, extensive and sometimes downright bizarre, it really requires it’s own post. But today, let’s just focus on the new year.

It really boils down to history’s favourite Roman, Julius Caesar and his creation of the Julian Calendar.

Before that, the Roman empire operated on a calendar of 304 days, with only 10 months, from March to December. March 1st was seen as the start of the new year.

Within 50 years, two additional months were added, Januarius and Februarius. The calendar had 355 days, inserting a leap month (yup, that’s correct) every four years to account for the missing 22 or 23 days.

This leap month was calculated by religious leaders, known as Pontifices, to ensure religious dates were properly observed. It was a time when religion and politics were closely intertwined and often the Pontifices would cherry pick when a leap month should be inserted. This allowed them to gain favour or inflict damage upon politicians by shortening or lengthening their year’s of office.

For 700 years, Roman citizens were often unaware of the exact date, as these changes were determined at the last minute, taking time to spread through the vast roman empire. It made expiry dates on Cheese very confusing.

By 46BC, Julius Caesar had enough and implemented a calendar that remained aligned to the sun without any human intervention.

The year was increased to 365 days, with a leap day added in February every four years. Caesar decreed that each new year would begin on January 1st, the day that consuls in Rome took office, aligning it with the government work year. Interestingly, it might have also been chosen after the Roman God, Janus. It is widely thought January was named after the God of beginnings and transitions, although that has never been fully established.

The months and their lengths, now started to look very similar to our modern calendars.

Months (Roman) Lengths before the Julian Calendar Lengths after the Julian Calendar Months (English)
Ianuarius [6] 29 31 January
Februarius 28 (in common years)
In intercalary years:
23 if Intercalaris is variable
23/24 if Intercalaris is fixed
28 (leap years: 29) February
Mercedonius/Intercalaris 0 (leap years: variable (27/28 days)[7]
or fixed)[8]
(abolished)
Martius 31 31 March
Aprilis 29 30 April
Maius 31 31 May
Iunius[6] 29 30 June
Quintilis[9] (Iulius) 31 31 July
Sextilis (Augustus) 29 31 August
September 29 30 September
October 31 31 October
November 29 30 November
December 29 31 December

The Julian calendar lasted until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII refined it with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar is on average 365.25 days long and the Gregorian, 365.2425, amounting to a difference of 0.002%. That difference, calculated since it’s adoption, now amounts to 13 lost days. But January 1st still marks the start of the new year.

  1. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/apgb/Geo2/24/23/contents
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_calendar