Martha Gruening

Martha Gruening Aids Washington Suffrage Campaign

Smith College Girl Aids Washington Suffrage Campaign

(Seattle, Washington – August 1910) – Miss Martha Gruening, of New York, a young graduate of Smith College, is generously devoting her summer to the Washington campaign. On her own responsibility and on her own resources, this young woman came across the continent to render service in what she beileves will be a winning campaign, and brilliant service she has rendered.

For this young girl has a message—a message from the working girls of Philadelphia to the working men and women of Washington. This message briefly stated is this: If the men of Washington will give women the ballot, it will help the hard pressed working girls of the East to a better chance.

Miss Gruening brings her message straight from the working girls for she took part in the shirt waist strike in Philadelphia last winter. While in her proper person of college girl she was not molested, though she “picketed” for weeks, but when one day she put on an old gown and a striker’s badge she was arrested and put in a cell.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Newspapers Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily, The Revolution, and the National Citizen and Ballot Box.

The following graphic story taken from Mrs. George A. Smith’s column in the Seattle Star, is what Miss Gruening has already told to more than 100 labor unions in Seattle. Mrs. Smith writes:

“Why are you a suffraget?” I asked.

“I think the ballot will better the condition of women workers,” said Miss Gruening. “If you could have seen the things I did during the shirt waist strike you would be sure of it.”

Then she told about that dramatic fight.

“All of the girls, 40,000 of them, are now organized for suffrage. At first they thought we were just faddists. But as the strike went on, and for 13 weeks they were refused justice at the hands of the police authorities, and as they saw the immense difference between their treatment and that received by the striking chauffeurs, who are voters, they very quickly came to feel that the only way to help themselves was to get the right to vote.

“The striking chauffeurs used violence, throwing brickbats and stones, and even killed a man—when arrested they were soon tried and fined.

“But mark this: Only 3 PER CENT were punished. Of the 500 girls arrested , 85 PER CENT were punished by imprisonment in the workhouse, after the first few fines were paid by Mrs. Belmont, Miss Morgan and other rich women.

“And the girls were quiet and orderly, merely passing back and forth in front of the shops, not even talking, but passing slips of paper saying: ‘Come out with us.’

“And yet they were arrested for inciting riot, and received as high as 90 days in the workhouse.

“And they were striking for a raise from 39 CENTS A DAY.

“For 20 years New York had a law prohibiting night work for women, but the manufacturers finally succeeded in having it declared unconstitutional.

“The girls, seeing that their condition was getting worse, tried to organize. They succeeded in forming a union of 150 members. In several days every one of the 150 were discharged, and were told the reason: ’No union allowed.’

“That was the inception of the strike—it began with several hundred, but in a few weeks 40,000 girls went out. For 13 weeks those women endured cold and hunger, non-employment, and the shame and agony of imprisonment.”

“You said the girls are now organized into suffrage clubs asking for the right to vote. How do they feel that the ballot will help them, Miss Gruening?”

“By giving them the same advantage workingmen have of electing men who will give them protective legislation, and then electing men who will enforce those laws.”

“Why are you working in Washington?”

“Because the Western states are yet free from the clutches of the manufacturers, who prevent woman suffrage in the Eastern states. Every victory is a victory for the East, and I feel that I am accomplishing something tangible here.”

Miss Gruening, with Mrs. Kelley, attended a session of the night court.

“NINETY WOMEN WERE TRIED AND SENTENCED IN 100 MINUTES and sent to Blackwell island for from six months to two years.

“Young girls, who are starved and mistreated until in desperation they are forced or betrayed into the life of the street, are preyed upon and abused by the police and others. A recital of the wrongs of these girls, for they are most of them nothing but that, makes the blood run cold.

“I was arrested for inciting riot one day because I put on old clothes and wore a striker’s badge.


Collection: Women’s Suffrage
Publication: The New Citizen (Votes for Women)
Date: August 1, 1910

About Martha Gruening

Marth Gruening (1889–1937) was an American writer and civil rights activist. She was born in Philadelphia. Her father was a well-known doctor. This Jewish family spoke German at home. She graduated from Smith College in 1909.

After college, Gruening went to Greenwich Village in New York, where she became a relentless political agitator. She wrote and edited The Dawn, a pacifist magazine, and was arrested for “disorderly conduct” after distributing pacifist literature in New York.

She served as the assistant secretary to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and wrote reports on national events for the association. She eventually moved to France and continued to advocate for the rights of black men and women until her death.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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