Women We Celebrate

Rose Winslow

Rose Winslow was born Ruza Wenclawska in Poland and immigrated to the United States as a child. At eleven years old, Winslow became a hosiery factory worker in Philadelphia and at nineteen years old, she contracted tuberculosis. The lack of protections afforded to her as a young worker helped shape her into a compelling advocate for the rights of working women, and an effective speaker and suffragist.

Winslow contributed significantly to the suffrage campaign of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later known as the National Woman’s Party). In particular, her labor connections, powerful speeches and unflagging activism in the face of arrest and imprisonment made her an invaluable organizer for the Party as it escalated its campaign from 1914 to 1920.

On February 2, 1914, Winslow spoke alongside fellow organizers at the mass suffrage meeting preceding a working women’s procession to the White House. A member of the final delegation permitted to see President Wilson, Winslow, representing the textile workers of Pennsylvania, reportedly said: “Mr. President, I am one of the thousands of women who work in the sweated trades, and have been since a child, who give their lives to build up these tremendous industries in this country, and at the end of the years of work our reward is the tuberculosis sanitarium or the street” (The Suffragist, February 7, 1914).

Winslow also supported the Congressional Union’s campaign against the Democratic Party, a tactic designed to pressure the Party (at that time, the party in power) into supporting a federal suffrage amendment. In September 1914, Winslow and Lucy Burns were sent to California to work for the congressional campaign opposing the Democrats.

In 1916, Winslow was a principal speaker of the National Woman’s Party’s 1916 election campaign against President Wilson and the Democratic Party. Winslow travelled to numerous states, including Arizona, speaking on behalf of the federal amendment and the NWP’s campaign. Winslow unexpectedly had to fill in for Inez Milholland when she fell ill during her own speaking tour in California in October 1916. Winslow also fell ill during this campaign, but apparently continued on at Alice Paul’s urging, according to correspondence between the two women.

Winslow’s impact was captured especially well in this description of her work organizing women voters in Arizona in 1916:

Perhaps no campaign was more interesting than that of Rose Winslow in Arizona. Vivian Pierce, whose experienced newspaper hand on the Suffragist helped to make that paper the success it so swiftly became, thus describes her work:

Rose Winslow represented the workers. She spoke for the exploited women in Eastern industry. In her own person to her audiences she typified her story of those imprisoned in factories and slums, unable to fight their own battles. Her words had the authenticity of an inspired young evangelist. She herself had come up out of that darkness; and the men of the mines and lumber camps, the women of the remote Arizona towns, listened to her with tears pouring down their faces. One does not see Eastern audiences so moved. At Winslow . . . this girl, pleading for working women, the most exploited class in industry, appealed to the men of the great Santa Fe railroad shops that animate the life of that remote region on the edge of the ” Painted Desert.” Rose Winslow had been warned that if she spoke at this town, she would be ” mobbed ” by the Wilson Democrats. After her impassioned story, told one noon hour, the men of the shops crowded around this young woman from the East, ” one of our own people,” as one man said, and asked her what they could do for the women of the East . . . (Story of the Woman’s Party)

In 1917, Winslow participated actively in the National Woman’s Party’s picket campaign of the White House. On October 6, she participated in the picket of the Emergency War Session of the Sixty-fifth Congress; she was arrested along with ten other pickets and ultimately released on suspended sentence. She picketed again on October 15 and after her subsequent arrest, spoke in court:

We have seen officers of the law permit men to assault women, to destroy their banners, to enter their residences. How, then, can you ask us to have respect for the law? We thought that by dismissing the suffragists without sentence this Court bad finally decided to recognize our legal right to petition the government. We shall continue to picket because it- is our right. On the tenth of November there will be a long line of Suffragists who will march to the White House gates to ask for political liberty. You can send us to jail, but you know that we have broken no law. You know that we have not even committed the technical offense on which we were arrested. You know that we are guiltless. (Story of the Woman’s Party)

The women were sentenced to twenty-five dollar fines (which they refused to pay) or six months in prison (later extended to seven months).

While imprisoned, Winslow and Alice Paul led a hunger strike to protest their treatment. The hunger strike lasted over three weeks during which time the suffragists were forcibly fed by prison staff. Winslow shared:

Yesterday was a bad day for me in feeding. I was vomiting continually during the process. The tube has developed an irritation somewhere that is painful. . . . (Jailed for Freedom)

Winslow passed away in 1977. Her contributions to the National Woman’s Party, especially during the suffrage campaign, were significant, not in small part because she could speak to working classes from a place of authentic identity, quite different from many of the NWP organizers. Unfortunately, there are no known records in the NWP archives about her work after the passage of the suffrage amendment in 1920. If you happen to know more about her post-suffrage work, please share with us! We’re looking for more information on her and hope you can help us fill in the gaps.