The Power of Silence: Shifting Perceptions of the Silent Sentinels in 1917

Chelsea Barranger, Ph.D. Candidate in History at McMaster University


On January 10 1917, members of the National Woman's Party (NWP) began a year-long campaign of picketing the White House for women's suffrage. Initially the Wilson administration, the press and general public considered the women a mild nuisance and dubbed them ‘Silent Sentinels.’ The perception and treatment of the Sentinels changed upon America’s entry into the First World War on April 6 1917. From June to November 1917, the picketers were subjected to increasing levels of violence following their unveiling of two banners bearing messages deemed 'unpatriotic' by the Wilson administration. The sustained violence these women were subjected to has often been characterized as a symptom of war hysteria. This paper argues that an examination of gender ideology and the contents of major newspapers reveals that gender, as much as war hysteria, shaped the press, public and Presidential administration’s perception and treatment of the ‘Silent Sentinels’ throughout 1917.