American women had been fighting for the vote for nearly 70 years when Woodrow Wilson won the presidential election in November 1916. It would be Wilson’s second term, and suffragists were disappointed. Wilson first took office in 1913, and one day prior to his Inauguration, they had staged a huge woman suffrage parade of more than 5,000 people marching up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Almost four years had passed, and U.S. women still did not have the vote. Wilson’s reelection felt like a major setback, but the suffragists, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, decided to turn their grief into action. They met on January 9, 1917, at the new headquarters of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, Cameron House, located just steps from the White House. There they would hear a plan, by Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Blatch told them: “We have got to bring to the President, day by day, week in, week out, the idea that great numbers of women want to be free, will be free, and want to know what he is going to do about it. We need to have a silent vigil in front of the White House until his inauguration in March.”