Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

It has been a long while since Women’s Voices for Change has posted any news of ourselves.  Early on, many of you came to rely on us for a kind of open door/open mouth policy wherewith we invited you in for coffee and showed you the new underwear we’d just purchased.  Those were the heady days of our beginning and as time passed we became busy with housekeeping chores and planning for the future and kind of kept to ourselves.

This time of national soul searching has brought us out again..

A friend of ours sent us a mailing about the women who became known as the  “Iron Jawed Angels” and about the HBO film of the same name.  It’s heart wrenching and important and a reminder of the cathedral of the next two months.  These women risked everything in order to gain women the right to vote.  They are our foremothers and we must honor their struggle with our courage.

Politics is at times ugly business.  It seeks through the use of personal attack gain in the public arena.  It works through fear to promise safety.  It reduces us to the most superficial self-defining and calls that democracy.  But the political process is something else again.  It reminds us that each link matters to the chain.  It listens to each of our voices in the form of each of our votes to determine who occupies the office that stands for our national character.  It also gives us a chance to make the difference we want in the outcomes.

Voter registration is key to any election.  Each one of us who works to register voters will be working toward a stronger more involved citizenry.  Information is intention as reality.  Arm yourself with clear facts and sure knowledge of the party platforms.  Be certain you can tell the truth about the candidate you are supporting and that you aren’t telling any falsehoods about the one you are not.

This is basic information for women of a certain age, but what is new for some of us is reckoning with the power we have over others.  Every day we encounter people who don’t feel about voting the way we do.  Standing in line for a cup of coffee or walking the aisle of a grocery store, we should be able to say something that hits the right chord or at least makes someone younger think about the democratic process or this election.  The streets that these candidates are walking will most likely get meaner in the coming days.  Meanness muddles meaning.  It’s up to us to remember what a presidential election means to our nation and to walk as the Iron Jawed Angels walked—with resolution and belief in our role in participating in the living Constitution and its importance on this planet.

Information about the Iron Jawed Angels is below, shared with us in a chain email — one that unlike so many others, is not about tearing a candidate down, but about who we are:


This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of
‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’ They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis (below right) into a dark cell, smashed her
head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate,
Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.
Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,
beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food–all of it colorless slop–was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because–why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels.’ It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of vot ing had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege.
Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was–with herself. ‘One thought
kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,’ she said. ‘What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just
younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.’ The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her ‘all over again.’

HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum.  I want it shown on Bunco and Bingo night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party – remember to vote.

History is being made.

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  • kristina bestul November 19, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    i just watched this movie in my tenth grade american history class…

  • Janice Dalrymple October 27, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I watched “Iron Jawed Angels” again on HBO last night(Sunday, Oct. 26) Wow! Very powerful! And yes, I believe we women do need a little jolt. I am sending this to all of my girlfriends,nieces, etc. Should have sent it sooner!

  • Chris Ruschak October 20, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I use this film in my 8th grade Language Arts classes during the month of March; however,a this year I’m moving it up to October/November in time for the election. Many of my students were familiar with it in 2004 & 2005. I am afraid it will be lost on the future generations.

  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger September 10, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    So glad to see we’ve entered the arena, even tangentially.