A Bloomington-Normal woman helped wage the fight for women to get the vote a century ago. Now, a newly digitized archive from Hazle Buck Ewing shows it was a long and bitter struggle.
The 19th Amendment recognizing the right to vote for women was ratified in August 1920. Those fighting for women’s voting rights suffered major consequences during the journey. Some suffragettes went on hunger strikes and were force fed while incarcerated.
Ewing Cultural Center Director Toni Tucker said the archive includes accounts of Ewing's niece, Lucy Ewing, who was jailed for protesting the lack of voting rights in 1917. Tucker said Lucy wrote accounts of women who ran the female prisons in Virginia.
“They would put worms in the food,” Tucker said. “They would let the milk go sour before giving it to the women. They would abuse them physically for wanting the right to vote. So it wasn’t all women in the country that wanted that right.”
Ewing's correspondence also documents physical abuse, force feedings, and substandard food suffragettes endured in jail after protests. Ewing wrote letters revealing the gruesome treatment of women protesters in prison.
“Women were being treated as slaves and being punished for not listening to the white man,” Tucker said. “It was very similar to what she felt like the fight against slavery was, just to have equality and equality for all women no matter what your skin color, what your sex, and your religion.
Women used several methods to protest the lack of voting rights. They wrote letters, held conferences, began women’s movement through journaling, and picketed state and local governments. Tucker said Ewing repeatedly wrote President Woodrow Wilson pushing for women's suffrage and received answers, but not the answer they were hoping for.
“She wrote him so much that towards the end in the letters back, the response became shorter and shorter each time,” Tucker said. “The last response we have is, ‘We have been receiving your letters. Thank you.’”
Other officials responded to Ewing’s letters, but their answers did not differ from Wilson’s response. Tucker said Ewing merited replies from the president's secretary because of her wealth and social standing. She supported the suffrage movement financially and was considered an influential individual.
Ewing’s influence provoked suffragettes to advocate on both the state and national level.
“Hazel and the other women created the League of Women Voters during that time,” Tucker said. “They would go out and speak throughout the county on the women’s right to vote and why they should support it. Hazel would organize demonstrations and give lectures to women’s clubs around the county.”
Tucker said the documents can provide scholars and the audience with firsthand details about crucial moments during the women’s suffrage movement.
“It gives them the opportunity to read the words of the women at the time and not just what they read in a textbook,” Tucker said.
Other artifacts in the collections includes Ewing’s sash from the March in Washington, D.C.; badges representing the state of Illinois; and photographs from the protests.
The Hazel Buck Ewing Suffrage Collection was digitized by Milner Library and can be found in the library's history collection and at the Ewing Cultural Center. The collection contains 163 pieces of digitized material of more letters from other leaders of women's suffrage such as Lucy Burns and Alice Paul and miscellaneous letters from Ewing during the movement.
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