When the United States entered World War I in April, 1917 suffrage leaders were faced with a momentous decision – should they put aside their suffrage work to aid in the war effort, or continue with their work and run the risk of being declared unpatriotic. They had faced such a dilemma during the Civil War, and their decision to postpone suffrage efforts for the duration had haunted them for decades. They would not make the same mistake again. This time, under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, they decided to work for both.
Suffragists worked with the Red Cross, ran canteen services and offered classes in food production. They undertook a massive military census throughout New York State, while also distributing suffrage pamphlets and pins.
And now we see they took it even further – across the sea. The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) took special interest in Women’s Overseas Hospitals in France. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on May 16, 1918 that, under the aegis of NAWSA “Mrs. Raymond Brown of Manhattan…sailed this week accompanied by three women (medical) experts who have joined the staff.” She would attempt to integrate services in the hospitals, while selecting a location for yet another to serve the needs of the injured French soldiers.
By undertaking such ambitious and sometimes dangerous projects suffrage leaders successfully linked woman suffrage with pro-war patriotism, simultaneously advancing the theory that such vital, and often life-saving work deserved the reward of full citizenship – the vote.