Monday, February 04, 2013

Doris Stevens: Jailed for Freedom


      A militant feminist and leader in the women's suffrage movement, Doris Stevens was a keen eyewitness to the historic events that led up to the passage of the 19th Amendment. While the experiences were still fresh in her mind, she recorded them.
Her 1920 book, Jailed for Freedom, captures in minute detail the cruelties suffragists endured during the fight to achieve the vote. More than 500 women were arrested during the demonstrations. Her book performs an invaluable service by recording in an appendix the names of the 168 women who actually served prison sentences, with a brief biography of each. Their names deserve to be remembered.
Doris Stevens was born in OmahaNeb., on October 26, 1892, the daughter of Henry Hendebourck Stevens and Caroline Koopman Stevens. She graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in the class of 1911. Oberlin was the first American institution of higher education to open its doors to women, and one of the first to admit blacks. Mary Jane Patterson, who was graduated from Oberlin in 1862, became the first black woman to receive a bachelor's degree in the United States.

      Doris Stevens joined with Doris Paul, Lucy Burns, Crystal Eastman and Dorothy Day to form the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, forerunner of the National Woman's Party (NWP), in 1913. She began to work as an organizer in NewportR.I.Denver and California. With journalistic experience and ample reserves of sheer nerve, she was noted in suffrage circles both for her radical views and her attractive appearance. Later, she organized the first national convention of women voters at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
Women's suffrage was gaining momentum. By 1915, a dozen states, all in the West, had given women the right to vote. The reason for this tilt toward equality was understandable: Western states had fewer women than men. Any state in which women had the right to vote would attract women to settle there and rectify the imbalance.
During the 1916 presidential campaign, Woodrow Wilson, running for a second term as president, promised peace but not suffrage. Charles Evans Hughes, his Republican challenger, promised suffrage but not peace. Doris was the California campaign manager for the NWP, which supported Hughes.
Active in demonstrating for women's suffrage, she was arrested in WashingtonD.C., on July 14, 1917, for picketing at the White House. Sentenced to 60 days in the infamous Occoquan Workhouse, she was pardoned by President Wilson after three days. The government was finally beginning to realize that repressive actions and harsh sentences were generating increasing sympathy for the suffragists from the public.
She was among the protesters arrested in New York City at a postwar suffragist demonstration outside the Metropolitan Opera House in March 1919. After living together in Croton, Doris married colorful attorney Dudley Field Malone in Peekskill in 1921 but kept her maiden name. Their house still stands on Highland Place in Croton. He was an outspoken and effective defender of women arrested during Wilson's mindless attempt to halt the women's suffrage juggernaut.
In 1918, Malone’s appeal had won the release of a group of suffrage demonstrators who had been jailed for “obstructing the sidewalk” in front of the White House.
Later, Malone was invited to be co-counsel, with Clarence Darrow, in the defense of John T. Scopes, in the famous 1925 Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” He gave what is widely regarded as the finest speech of the trial in defense of academic freedom.

Second Marriage 
      Doris was divorced from Malone in Paris in 1929. In 1935 in Portland, Maine, she married Jonathan Mitchell, a writer on the staff of the magazine The NewRepublic. Mitchell was the author of Goose Steps to Peace, published in 1931, a thoughtful study of peace efforts after the First World War. The couple planned to live in Croton-on-Hudson.
Always a firebrand and a fighter, after helping to win the battle for women's suffrage in the United StatesDoris turned her attention to the widespread discrimination against women in other countries.
In 1928, Doris and members of the NWP asked to be allowed to present a proposed Equal Rights Treaty at an international conference in France. The women's aim was to get the delegates to add such an understanding to the pact being negotiated. It was known both as the Pact of Paris and as the Kellogg-Briand Treaty for its authors, Frank B. Kellogg, American secretary of state, and Aristide Briand, French foreign minister. Signatory nations agreed not to resort to force in resolving disputes.
Doris managed to make headlines by getting herself arrested at the gate of the home of French president, Gaston Doumergue in Rambouillet. Members of theNWP carried a banner reading, "We demand a treaty giving women their rights." French police arrested ten demonstrators, including Doris, for refusing to leave the area and for not having identity cards.
Exhibiting bruises on her arms and wrists, she told reporters later, "It was a splendid battle, and we are proud of it."
Denying that they had planned to disrupt the conference, she explained that women were amateurs in diplomatic affairs.
"We see only the forthright, common-sense way to proceed," she added. "That, I think, is often an asset."
The next month in London, she defended her militant actions at Rambouillet. "Of course, we lacked tact," she conceded. "We are in revolt."
The Kellogg-Briand Treaty was eventually ratified by the U.S. Senate with only one dissenting vote. As it turned out, the pact never made a meaningful contribution to international order in the face of several undeclared wars of the 1930s--the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the German occupation of Austria in 1938.
When the 6th Pan American Congress met in Havana in 1928, Doris was there. She succeeded in getting six Western Hemisphere countries to sponsor the inclusion of an Equal Rights Treaty on the agenda of the 7th Pan American Congress to be held in 1933 at MontevideoUruguay.
An even more significant accomplishment was the 7th Congress's creation of an Inter-American Commission of Women (IACW) to study the status of women, with Doris as its head. She would continue in this role until 1939.
Her efforts in directing the IACW resulted in the adoption of two equality treaties. Nineteen republics signed the Equal Nationality Convention, and four signed an Equal Rights Treaty--the first international agreements in history to equalize the status of men and women.
Like suffrage, the international equal rights movement was fraught with squabbles. In 1939, the NWP's rival, the League of Women Voters, succeeded in getting Doris ousted from the IACW. Instrumental in accomplishing this was Mollie Dewson, of the Democratic National Committee, who had influence with the State Department. A Democratic administration was in power, and Doris was a registered Republican. She was also accused of having been too cozy with some of the Latin American delegates.
In her place, the State Department announced the appointment to the ICAW of Mary Winslow, of the Women's Trade Union League. The excuse was that Stevens had not been chosen by the United States but by the 7th Pan American Conference.
League of Women Voters president Marguerite Wells was also instrumental in getting the IACW reorganized in 1940, with a Latin American woman appointed as chairman.
Doris Stevens was a member of the national council of the NWP from 1924 to 1948.
In addition to having written Jailed for Freedom, she designed the book, Paintings and Drawings of Jeannette Scott, 1863-1937. She also wrote a biographical sketch for this limited edition of 500 copies, privately printed in New Rochelle for James Brown Scott in 1940. Jeannette Scott had taught at Syracuse University.
The Mitchells continued to live in Croton, where she also pursued song writing. Five of her songs were premiered on New York radio station WINS, and introduced in concerts at Constitution Hall in Washington in 1952 and 1953. She died on March 22, 1963, at the age of 70, in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City after suffering a stroke. Survived by her husband and a brother, Ralph Stevens, of McCookNeb., she is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Portland,Maine, as Doris Stevens Mitchell. Her husband, Jonathan Mitchell,  died in FairfieldConn., in October 1983 and is buried beside her.
Doris Stevens’ papers were deposited in the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College. To honor her efforts for women, Princeton University established a Doris Stevens Professorship in Women's Studies in 1985 with the gift from a foundation established by  Jonathan Mitchell in his wife’s name.

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