blackbirdonline journalSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
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Court Orders Writ to Free 28 Suffs
reprinted from The Sun, New York, New York, Sunday, November 18, 1917

   Judge Waddill at Richmond, Va., Sets Habeas Corpus Hearing for Nov. 27.
   Friends of Occoquan Workhouse Prisoners Protest to Secretary of War.

Special Dispatch to The Sun.
Washington, Nov. 17.—Judge Edmund Waddill, Jr., in the United States District Court at Richmond, Va., to-day ordered issued a writ of habeas corpus seeking the release of the twenty-eight suffragists who are undergoing rigid disciplinary treatment at the District of Columbia workhouse at Occoquan. Judge Waddill set the hearing for November 27 at Alexandria, Va.

The application for a writ of habeas corpus alleged acts of cruelty and charged as one example that Lucy Burns, vice-  chairman of the Woman’s party, which has been active in picketing the White House, had been handcuffed to the bars of a cell formerly used for the incarceration of prisoners suffering from delirium tremens. The writ seeks the release of the women on the ground that prisoners sentenced for offences committed in the District of Columbia cannot be imprisoned in the State of Virginia.

The issue of the writ does not release the suffragists from the workhouse, but orders them to be produced in court at Alexandria on November 27, when the authorities must show cause why they should not be freed in accordance with their allegations.

Hunger Strike Still On.
Meanwhile the prisoners distributed between the Occoquan workhouse and the District of Columbia jail here are, with two or three exceptions, engaged in a hunger strike. At the beginning of the application of the British method of forcing court actions only Miss Alice Paul, chairman of the National Woman’s party, and Miss Rose Winslow, a New York social worker, undertook the hunger strike. Now the entire Occoquan group of twenty-eight and all save two or three of the women in the District jail are refusing food. One by one, in the opinion of the prisoners’ medical authority, as their physical weakness through the deprivation of food necessitates, they are subjected to the forcible feeding process.

The prison medical authorities insist that none of the prisoners is suffering anything more than extreme physical discomfort from the forced feeding. Women who have succeeded in getting momentary word from Miss Paul through the prison hospital windows were assured by her that she felt exceedingly weak and that the forcible feeding process had inflamed her nose and throat to such an extent that each application of the treatment brought excruciating pain.

Protest to Secretary Baker.
A group of Woman’s party leaders, headed by Mrs. William Kent, to-day called upon the Secretary of War to lay before him their plea to the Administration for less harsh treatment and to urge through him that the President voice approval of the “Anthony amendment” to the Federal Constitution in his message to Congress.

Secretary Baker, while assuring them of his own sympathy with the general principle of suffrage for women, could give them no assurances as to the Administration’s attitude on the general question, and with regard to the treatment of the prisoners he assured them that the proper place to register their protest was with the office of Attorney General Gregory and not the War Department.

Miss Alice Todd Charges Bad Faith in Washington.

Angry clear through at what she considers a deliberate violation of good faith on the part of Commissioner W. Gwinn Gardiner of the District of Columbia, Miss Helen Todd went to Washington last night to seek an interview with President Wilson. Miss Todd will ask the President to appoint a fair and unbiased commission to examine into conditions at the House of Detention in Washington and the Occoquan Workhouse.

“All we want is the truth,” she said as she took the train. “We want to know whether these dreadful charges that are made are true, and we can’t find out.” She gave the name of a prominent prison authority who has agreed to act as investigator should he be asked, but whose identity cannot be published until the President consents to act.

Miss Todd’s wrath with Commissioner Gardiner is of recent growth. Last Monday she thought he was about the nicest official she ever encountered. That was when she and Mrs. Charles Beard as representatives of the Committee of One Thousand Women were permitted to visit Alice Paul, Rose Winslow and the other imprisoned pickets in jail. Miss Todd and Mrs. Beard suggested certain changes in the treatment of the prisoners to Commissioner Gardiner, who accompanied them, and he was, she says, most suave and acquiescent. He informed them that he saw no reason why the diet, ventilation, &c., could not be bettered. Miss Todd came away from that interview feeling that Mr. Gardiner was going to fix everything right up.

Miss Todd was obliged to return to New York without seeing Commissioner Gardiner again, but she mailed the type written list of demands to him with a letter. Since then she has heard nothing from him, and rumors of mysterious origin have been circulated to the effect that “Miss Todd and Mrs. Beard came away from the jail saying that conditions were all right and the pickets who complained were liars.”

The paper, signed by Miss Burns, Mrs. Brannan and Mrs. Lewis, was addressed to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia. It said:

“Gentlemen—We wish a class of political prisoners created, who will have the usual privileges of political prisoners. These are:

“1. The right to buy food from outside the prison.

“2. The right to wear their own clothes.

“3. The right to have books, papers, magazines, writing materials and facilities for study.

“4. To receive visitors of their own choice every day during the business hours of the institution.

“5. To see counsel.

“6. To consult a physician of their own choice.

“7. To have exercise in the open air for at least one hour every day and an adequate supply of fresh air within the prison building.

“8. The privilege of writing and receiving letters without restriction, subject to inspection, if desired, of prison authorities.”

“When I went to see Mrs. Brannan and the rest just after they were taken to the House of Detention,” said Miss Todd, “I found sixteen of them sleeping on the floor—Mrs. Brannan and Mrs. John Rogers, Jr., and Mrs. Lewis and the rest. It was night, they were in a room with only two beds, and there was no place to lie but the floor.

“In the next tier were a lot of negresses, and as the negresses were cold the windows were all shut tight. You can imagine the air. Now all we ask is that these women shall be considered political prisoners, and that all the prisoners in those District of Columbia institutions shall have conditions of common decency, such as we ought not to deny the veriest criminal.

“I hope and believe that the President will consent to have these institutions investigated and the truth given to the world.”  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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