blackbirdonline journalSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts

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Excerpts from Mrs. Brannan’s Affidavit with Commentary by Doris Stevens
reprinted from Jailed for Freedom, Doris Stevens, 1920

Mrs. John Winters Brannan was among the women who endured the “night of terror.” Mrs. Brannan is the daughter of Charles A. Dana, founder of the New York Sun and that great American patriot of liberty who was a trusted associate and counselor of Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Brannan, life-long suffragist, is an aristocrat of intellect and feeling, who has always allied herself with libertarian movements. This was her second term of imprisonment. She wrote a comprehensive affidavit of her experience. After narrating the events which led up to the attack, she continues:

Superintendent Whittaker . . . then shouted out in a loud tone of voice, “Seize these women, take them off, that one, that one,—take her off.” The guards rushed forward and an almost indescribable scene of violent confusion ensued. I . . . saw one of the guards seize her [Lucy Burns] by the arms, twist or force them back of her, and one or two other guards seize her by the shoulders, shaking her violently . . . 

I then . . . took up my heavy sealskin coat, which was lying by, and put it on, in order to prepare myself if attacked.

. . . I was trembling at the time and was stunned with terror at the situation as it had developed, and said to the superintendent, “I will give my name under protest,” and started to walk towards the desk whereon lay the books. The superintendent shouted to me, “Oh, no, you won’t; don’t talk about protest; I won’t have any of that nonsense.”

I . . . saw the guards seizing the different women of the party with the utmost violence, the furniture being overturned and the room a scene of the utmost disturbance. I saw Miss Lincoln lying on the floor, with every appearance of having just been thrown down by the two guards who were standing over her in a menacing attitude.

Seeing the general disturbance, I gave up all idea of giving my name at the desk, and instinctively joined my companions, to go with them and share whatever was in store for them. The whole group of women were thrown, dragged or herded out of the office on to the porch, down the steps to the ground, and forced to cross the road . . . to the Administrative Building.

During all of this time, . . . Superintendent Whittaker was . . . directing the whole attack . . . 

. . . All of us were thrown into different cells in the men’s prison, I being put in with four other women, the cell containing a narrow bed and one chair, which was immediately removed . . . 

During the time that we were being forced into the cells the guards kept up an uproar, shouting, banging the iron doors, clanging bars, making a terrifying noise.

I and one of my companions were lying down on the narrow bed, on which were a blanket and one pillow. The door of the cell was opened and a mattress and a blanket being thrown in, the door was violently banged to . . . My other . . . companions arranged the mattress on the floor and lay down, covering themselves with the blanket.

. . . I looked across the corridor and saw Mrs. Lincoln,. . . and asked her whether she was all right, being anxious to know whether she had been hurt by the treatment in the office building . . . Instantly Superintendent Whittaker rushed forward, shouting at me, “Stop that; not another word from your mouth, or I will handcuff you, gag you, and put you in a straitjacket . . . 

I wish to state again that the cells into which we were put were situated in the men’s prison. There was no privacy for the women, and if any of us wished to undress we would be subject to the view or observation of the guards who remained in the corridor and who could at any moment look at us . . . 

Furthermore, the water closets were in full view of the corridor where Superintendent Whittaker and the guards were moving about. The flushing of these closets could only be done from the corridor, and we were forced to ask the guards to do this for us,—the men who had shortly before attacked us . . . 

None of the matrons or women attendants appeared at any time that night. No water was brought to us for washing, no food was offered to us . . . 

I was exhausted by what I had seen and been through, and spent the night in absolute terror of further attack and of what might still be in store for us. I thought of the young girls who were with us and feared for their safety. The guards . . . acted brutal in the extreme, incited to their brutal conduct towards us, . . . by the superintendent.

I thought of the offense with which we had been charged,—merely that of obstructing traffic,—and felt that the treatment that we had received was out of all proportion to the offense with which we were charged, and that the superintendent, the matron and guards would not have dared to act towards us as they had acted unless they relied upon the support of higher authorities.

It seemed to me that everything had been done from the time we reached the workhouse to terrorize us, and my fear lest the extreme of outrage would be worked upon the young girls of our party became intense.

It is impossible for me to describe the terror of that night . . . 

Mrs. John Winters Brannan
 Mrs. John Winters Brannan, c. 1915.

The affidavit then continues with the story of how Mrs. Brannan was compelled the following morning to put on prison clothes, was given a cup of skimmed milk and a slice of toast, and then taken to the sewing room, where she was put to work sewing on the underdrawers of the male prisoners.

I was half fainting all of that day and . . . requested permission to lie down, feeling so ill . . . I could not sleep, having a sense of constant danger . . . I was almost paralyzed and in wretched physical condition.

On Friday afternoon Mrs. Herndon [matron] . . . led us through some woods nearby, for about three-quarters of a mile, seven of us being in the party. We were so exhausted and weary that we were obliged to stop constantly to rest.

On our way back from the walk we heard the baying of hounds very near us in the woods.

The matron said, “You must hurry, the bloodhounds are loose.”

One of the party, Miss Findeisen, asked whether they would attack us, to which the matron replied, “That is just what they would do,” and hurried us along. The baying grew louder and nearer at times and then more distant, as the dogs rushed back and forth, and this went on until we reached the sewing room. The effect of this upon our nerves can better be imagined than described . . . 

Every conceivable lie was tried in an effort to force the women to abandon their various form of resistance. They were told that no efforts were being made from the outside to reach them, and that their attorney had been called off the case.

Each one was told that she was the only one hunger striking.

Each one was told that all the others had put on prison clothes and were working.

Although they were separated from one another they suspected the lies and remained strong in their resistance.

After Mr. O’Brien’s one visit and the subsequent reports in the press he was thereafter refused admission to the workhouse.

The judge had sentenced these women to the jail, but the District Commissioners had ordered them committed to the workhouse. It was evident that the Administration was anxious to keep this group away from Alice Paul and her companions, as they counted on handling the rebellion more easily in two groups than one.  end

   Silent Sentinels and the Night of Terror
   Introduction & Table of Contents

   Voices from Occoquan
   Introduction & Table of Contents

   1917 Suite: A Month, a Year, a Term of Liberty
   Introduction & Cross-issue Table of Contents

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