TwHP Lessons

Lafayette Park: First Amendment Rights on the President’s Doorstep
Aerial view of Lafayette Square and the White House
(Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
E

very day the women with their banners marched across the park to take up positions in front of the White House. They came from the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party (NWP) on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Their banners demanded that President Woodrow Wilson help them in their campaign to get all American women the same right to vote that American men already had. They maintained their vigil every day for two months, through the rain and snow of January and February 1917.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all Americans freedom of speech and of assembly and the right to petition their government.  What better place to exercise those rights than in front of the White House?  When these brave women chose to take their protest to the president’s front door, they blazed a trail for thousands of Americans who have come to Lafayette Park to exercise their right as citizens—their right to be heard.

The NWP pickets began to encounter violent reactions from onlookers after the United States entered the First World War in April 1917.  The police began to arrest them and to imprison them under harsh conditions.  Many people were shocked when they learned about the women’s treatment.  Some lawyers thought the sentences imposed were in violation of the First Amendment.  The women continued to demand their rights, in spite of the violence they endured.  The 19th Amendment, guaranteeing all women in America the right to vote, finally became part of the Constitution in 1920, three years after the first pickets marched to the White House.

By exercising their First Amendment rights, the women provided a model for many others.  Groups and individuals have demonstrated against the Vietnam War, for rights for gays and lesbians, for and against abortion, and for civil rights.  U. S. citizens and foreign nationals also protest on issues or events occurring around the world that they believe the United States should be aware of and become involved in.  All of these people have presented their causes and their grievances to the president in Lafayette Park—where he could not ignore them.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
  1. The White House, Lafayette Park, and Lafayette Square
  2. Map 2: Lafayette Park and Its Surroundings in 1891

Determining the Facts: Readings

  1. Reading 1: The National Woman’s Party and Lafayette Park
  2. Reading 2: Picketing and Protest: Testing the First Amendment
  3. Reading 3: President Wilson’s Address to the Senate, Sept. 30, 1918

Visual Evidence: Images
  1. National Woman’s Party Pickets,
    February 1917
  2. “Russian” Banner, June 1917
  3. Man Attacking “Russian” Banner, June 1917
  4. Pickets marching from National Woman’s Party headquarters to the White House on Bastille Day, July 14, 1917
  5. Alice Paul leads pickets out of National Woman’s Party headquarters, October 1917
  6. Burning Wilson’s speeches in Lafayette Park, September 1918
  7. “The Temptation”

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Following in the Women’s Footsteps
 2. Planning for Protest
 3. First Amendment Rights
 4. Women and Violence
 5. First Amendment Rights in the Local Community

Supplementary Resources

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President's Park (White House)


This lesson is based on the Lafayette Square Historic District in Washington, D.C. It is among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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