Eunice Dana Brannan, 1854 – 1936
On November 10, 1917, forty women representing the National Woman’s Party picketed the White House gates, protesting their lack of the right to vote. Although their actions were peaceful and legal, they were arrested, and four days later taken to a rough workhouse, Occoquan Prison, in Virginia, where they were physically abused, denied basic supplies and food, and threatened with even greater harm. Eunice Dana Brannan was one of the forty. Later she recalled: “We were absolutely in the power of a gang of prison thugs. Women were hurled down steps and into cells with narrow beds and dirty blankets…The scene that took place in the reception room of the workhouse was of incredibly infamous cruelty. Nothing that we know…could exceed the brutality that was used towards us.” Eunice was kept at Occoquan for a week before being released.
That fateful November night spent in a dirty prison cell, later known as the “Night of Terror,” must have seemed far away from her usual life of privilege. She was born August 24, 1854 in Connecticut to the wealthy family of Charles Dana, who would later become the editor of the New York Sun newspaper. Charles Dana and his wife Eunice MacDaniel later moved to an estate in Glen Cove, New York, “The Wings,” which was a favorite vacation spot for suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Eunice married John Winters Brannan, President of Bellevue and Allied Hospitals. Around 1910 she joined the Women’s Political Union as Chair of the Finance Committee, and worked with Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She later joined the Congressional Union with Alice Paul, where she was elected to the Executive Committee at the CU’s first national convention, and was a prodigious fundraiser.
Eunice had picketed and been imprisoned before that November night, and had refused then to back down and plead guilty. “We will not sit in silence,” she declared, “while the President (Wilson) presents himself to the people of Europe as the representative of a free people when the American people are not free, and he is chiefly responsible for it.”
Her nights in Occoquan only solidified her resolve to work even harder for suffrage. After their release she and other former prisoners donned replicas of their prison uniforms and met with the press to publicize their mistreatment. After suffrage was won she continued to work on women’s issues, “keeping the flag of freedom high.” She died in 1936.
Her belief in the right to publicly demonstrate one’s beliefs resonates to this day: “We have been told it is unpatriotic to criticize public action…We have forgotten the history of our country if we have forgotten how to object, how to resist, how to agitate when it is necessary to readjust matters.”
Happy Birthday, Eunice Dana Brannan!