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  • Emmanuel Mehr

Julia Emory, Baltimorean Women’s Suffrage Activist

BHW 31: September 2, 2023

Black-and-white portrait photograph of Julia Emory, a white woman who wears a fur coat and veiled hat. She is pointing to a pin on her lapel in the shape of a prison cell gate.
Figure 1. Harris & Ewing, “Miss Julia Emory,” c. 1905-1945, Library of Congress, open access [1].


Baltimorean women’s suffrage activist Julia Emory was arrested thirty-four times as part of her advocacy for white women’s right to vote in the United States. [2] Most of her arrests came in 1917 and 1918, as she bolstered support for the movement in the years leading up to passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Through these years, newspapers around the country reported on her arrests while connecting her to her hometown. For example, in 1918, the Washington Post reported, “Miss Julia Emory, of Baltimore, was in a serious condition last night.” [3] The reason for this condition was a hunger strike demonstrated over the course of a five-day imprisonment. Like many other women’s suffrage activists who served jail time for their activism, Emory wore a lapel pin depicting a prison cell (Figure 1). This pin was to demonstrate commitment to the cause and the personal sacrifice of time served. [4] She also demonstrated commitment through her involvement with the National Woman’s Party (NWP) and the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL). [5] Her story provides a Baltimorean perspective on how the white women’s suffrage struggle engaged with themes of militant action, labor involvement, and rhetoric in the years surrounding World War I.

Julia Emory’s militant approach correlated directly to her involvement with the NWP, which was known for its “aggressive defiance” strategy. NWP members employed a silent protest strategy that earned them the nickname, “The Silent Sentinels.” Their approach combined a commitment to non-violence with an eagerness to publicly resist authority. [6] NWP member Doris Stevens identified the group’s mission as “to win a solitary thing—the passage by Congress of the national suffrage amendment enfranchising women.” She adds, “It is the story of the first organized militant political action to this end.” [7] NWP activists used the means available to them to demonstrate continued resistance. For example, one of their primary tactics was the hunger strike, often utilized while imprisoned when other options for resistance were limited. As already mentioned, Emory herself was very committed to this tactic. On August 21, 1918, after her and other NWP activists were released from five days of imprisonment, the Maryland Suffrage News reported: “Miss Emory, whose life, according to the jail physician, was in danger as a result of the hunger strike, in which all the prisoners took part, is still seriously ill at the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party.” Emory later recalled that this seemingly concerned physician refused to provide medical assistance unless the women broke their strike. [8] This hunger strike was successful in that the activists were released from prison after serving only five of the ten to fifteen days on their sentences. [9] They also received a permit for their next demonstration, another victory from the strike. [10]

Law enforcement and judicial authorities struggled with how to classify the resistance acts of NWP women’s suffrage activists, leveling bogus charges. Emory herself recalled an occasion on September 4, 1918, when her and her compatriots, “were sentenced by Judge Pugh to 60 days in the workhouse for ‘obstructing traffic.’” She added, “Not one of us had interfered with traffic any more than the hundreds of men, women, and children who were gathering to watch the [nearby Labor Day] parade. But asking for justice for women has come to mean ‘embarrassing the Administration—‘blocking traffic.’” Emory also pointed out that the authorities arbitrarily changed charges based on individual circumstances, demonstrating a lack of concern for the specifics of the charges themselves. She recalled, “At the station-house I asked the inspector… why I was arrested… He said, ‘Same thing the others were arrested for; ask them’… I said, ‘The last time suffragists were arrested they were charged with obstructing traffic,’ so he said, ‘That’s what you are in for.’” Then when she pled her innocence on this traffic charge, the inspector changed the charge. She noted, “But I told him I had delayed no vehicle and was near no person. So, he said, ‘Then you are in for disorderly conduct.’” [11] Women’s suffrage activist Inez Haynes Irwin recounted another occasion, this one in January 1919, where charges changed seemingly arbitrarily. She wrote, “All these sentinels were charged, when they were arrested, with breaking a Federal Park regulation. But when they came to court, they were charged with building a bonfire on a public highway between sunset and sunrise.” [12] For the activists, the charges themselves were not the point. FWP demonstrators made clear that their acts represented resistance against the continued denial of voting rights to American white women.

While Emory herself was a member of the middle class, she demonstrated a firm commitment to labor rights and solidarity with working-class white women. This is most notably reflected in her involvement with the WTUL. As scholar Robin Miller Jacoby emphasizes, “for middle-class feminists outside the WTUL, class identity outweighed their rhetorical commitment to the idea of cross-class female solidarity.” But for Emory and others involved with the WTUL, class difference was an opportunity for solidarity rather than a divisive factor. [13] One of the main goals of the WTUL was education programs for working-class women. The group organized a school program for this purpose, called “The Women’s Trade Union League Training School for Women Organizers.” The school debuted in 1914 with an inaugural class of three students. One of them was Myrtle Whitehead, a prominent Baltimore labor organizer and leader. She worked at the Crown, Cork, and Seal Company in Baltimore City from age eleven and became president of its 400-member union when the factory unionized. The Baltimore branch of the WTUL, of which Emory was a key member, sponsored the teenage Whitehead’s participation in the program. [14] Meanwhile, Emory rallied support for women’s suffrage from prominent organized labor groups. In June 1918 she wrote, “Some of the most interesting work I have done on behalf of the Federal suffrage amendment was put through in the three counties of Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Lycoming, in Pennsylvania. From all three of these I obtained the favorable expression of all organized labor in the form of resolutions, first to the Senate… and to the President.” She leveraged the WTUL’s solidarity with organized labor to bring about significant legislative endorsements.

Emory and others in the NWP wielded rhetoric as a liberatory mechanism in the fight for women’s suffrage. They harnessed President Woodrow Wilson’s democracy-based war rhetoric together with the symbolic power of fire to frame the women’s suffrage struggle as an important national crusade. As humanities scholar Belinda A. Stillion Southard argues, “the [Silent] Sentinels’s protest functioned as part of a symbolic dialogue initiated by Wilson, in which the Sentinels responded to and appropriated his turn toward a more rhetorical relationship with the American public.” [15] These activists placed themselves in conversation with Wilson as members of the democracy he led, while also pointing out that his rhetorical emphasis on democracy conflicted with their lack of voting rights. If America was going to make the world safe for democracy, the activists asserted, women needed to be included in the acts of American democracy at home. They also harnessed Wilson’s frequent usage of fire metaphors by creating “Watch Fires” outside the White House, flames meant to assert the persistence of the women’s suffrage cause. [16] Emory was quite active in these fire activities. On September 16, 1918, in Lafayette Square, she held up a flaming torch to a cheering crowd. As Irwin recalled in her memoir, “And while the crowd that had quickly gathered applauded, Lucy Branham stepped forward. Beside her was Julia Emory, holding a flaming torch. ‘We want action,’ Miss Branham stated simply, ‘not words.’” [17] This emphasis on action over words is striking given the NWP’s emphasis on rhetoric and, by extension, words. A similar message accompanied a portrait photograph of President Wilson on the front page of the Maryland Suffrage News on August 24, 1918. The caption proclaimed: “DEEDS, not words, Mr. President, are what the disfranchised women of America want [italics in original].” [18]

On January 9, 1918, President Wilson endorsed women’s suffrage, quickly followed by the House of Representatives, setting the stage for a suffrage amendment. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed on June 4, 1919, and granted white women the right to vote. Baltimorean women’s suffrage activist Julia Emory played a significant role in this fight, being imprisoned many times in the process. Through militancy, labor involvement, and rhetoric, Emory advanced the suffrage struggle in the United States. Her affiliation with both the NWP and WTUL provided organizational clout and experience for her activism. This organizational combination makes Emory unique, demonstrating her individual combination of labor-oriented goals and women’s suffrage militancy. While no sizable literature discusses her role, the mentions of her arrests across the historical record make clear her active resistance. While the women’s suffrage cause was an inherently national one, focusing on this Baltimorean perspective provides insights into local lived experiences. Furthermore, the Baltimore WTUL branch’s funding of Myrtle Whitehead’s enrollment in the WTUL training school shows that the movement in Baltimore also went beyond Emory and engaged the city’s working class. Numerous other organizers commented on Emory’s young age, being in her early thirties during her main activism years. This was substantially younger than some of the older movement leaders, but did not lessen her commitment to the struggle. As Irwin recalled, “Julia Emory… [and others] are all little girls. But in Suffrage work, they were active, insistent, and persistent in inverse ratio to their size.” [19]


[1] Harris & Ewing, “Miss Julia Emory,” photograph (unspecified location, c. 1905-1945), Library of Congress, open access,

[2] See Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman’s Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921),; “Miss Julia Emory,” The News (Newport, PA), December 21, 1920, 1,

[3] “23 ‘SUFFS’ GO FREE; WEAK FROM HUNGER,” Washington Post, August 21, 1918, 6,

[4] “PRISON PIN GIVEN TO SUFFRAGE EX-PRISONERS,” Maryland Suffrage News (Baltimore, MD), December 15, 1917, 289,

[5] Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Liveright, 1980),

[6] Belinda A. Stillion Southard, “Militancy, Power, and Identity: The Silent Sentinels as Women Fighting for Political Voice,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 10, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 399-401,

[7] Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, vii.

[8] Julia R. Emory, “OUR PROTEST,” Maryland Suffrage News (Baltimore, MD), August 31, 1918, 170,


[10] Emory, “OUR PROTEST,” 170.

[11] Julia R. Emory, “60 DAYS FOR ‘BLOCKING TRAFFIC,’” Maryland Suffrage News (Baltimore, MD), September 15, 1917, 187,

[12] Irwin, The Story of the Woman’s Party, 394.

[13] Robin Miller Jacoby, “The Women’s Trade Union League and American Feminism,” Feminist Studies 3, no. 1-2 (Autumn 1975): 128,

[14] Robin Miller Jacoby, “The Women’s Trade Union League Training School for Women Organizers, 1914-1926,” in Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914-1984, ed. Joyce L. Kornbluh and Mary Frederickson (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 9, open access,

[15] Southard, “Militancy, Power, and Identity,” 406.

[16] Belinda A. Stilliard Southard, Militant Citizenship: Rhetorical Strategies of the Nation Woman’s Party, 1913-1920 (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2011), 166,

[17] Irwin, The Story of the Woman’s Party, 364.

[18] “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?,” Maryland Suffrage News (Baltimore, MD), August 24, 1918, 1,

[19] Irwin, The Story of the Woman’s Party, 328.

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