Archives Month Feature: Sarah McClendon and the National Woman’s Party

Throughout October, the UASC is celebrating Archives Month, a national collaboration among repositories and archives professionals to promote public awareness of the enduring value of archival records. In addition to the existing 1972 election exhibit currently on display, the UASC has installed three new Archives Month exhibits on the second floor of the Robert R. Muntz Library at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Who was Sarah McClendon?

Born in Tyler, Texas on July 8, 1910, Sarah McClendon was one of the longest serving members of the White House Press Corp, with a career that spanned eleven presidents (from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton). She was best known for her sharp public interrogations of presidents and administration officials, frequently on the topics of national security concerns and the interests of women, farmers, and veterans. In addition to running a national news syndication service, offering political analysis to television and radio audiences, and authoring two memoirs on her career as a Washington correspondent, Sarah McClendon was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, freedom of the press, and the fair treatment of veterans.

Sarah McClendon donated a portion of her personal and professional papers (including many audiovisual and ephemeral items) to the University Archives at the University of Texas at Tyler in 1992. She continued to donate materials to the University until her death in 2003.

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The History Behind the Exhibit

The National Woman’s Party was founded in 1916 by Alice Paul, an American suffragist and activist. The organization sought to legalize women’s right to vote through the adoption of a constitutional amendment. While many women’s organizations in the early 20th century focused on achieving state suffrage, the NWP targeted members of Congress and the White House through a campaign of nonviolent protest. In 1923, Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) with the hopes of winning full equality for women before the law. The ERA was passed by both houses of Congress in 1972, but failed to meet ratification requirements before the expiration date in 1982.

Alice Paul died at the age of 92 on July 9, 1977. On August 26, 1977 (the anniversary of the adoption of the Suffrage amendment in 1920), the NWP invited other women’s organizations to participate in a memorial march on Washington. The Alice Paul Memorial March, organized by NWP president Elizabeth Chittick, commemorated the original 1913 Suffrage parade up Pennsylvania Avenue lead by Alice Paul. The 1913 parade, which drew 8000 participants, sought to pressure newly elected President Woodrow Wilson into supporting the Suffrage movement.  The dazzling spectacle of the pageant and widespread violence directed at the marchers by male crowds drew national attention to the NWP and the Suffrage movement.

Sarah McClendon, a long-time member of the National Woman’s Party and advocate for women’s rights, was one of over 4000 participants in 1977. Marchers predominantly dressed in traditional white outfits with recreated sashes of purple, white, and gold. Organizations such as the NWP, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and many others marched in the parade under 1913-style suffragist banners. In conjunction with the parade, President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.

Sarah McClendon held many positions in the National Woman’s Party, including Vice-Chair, Chair of the Membership Committee, member of the National Council, Advisory Board Member, and Honorary Board Member.

Featured Items

The exhibit contains many unique items related to the 1977 Alice Paul Memorial March, as well as materials which provide a glimpse into Sarah McClendon’s relationship with the National Woman’s Party. Chief among these items are the suffragist sash and “jailed for freedom” pin which Sarah McClendon wore during the march. The sash is a recreation of sashes worn by the original suffragists, featuring the official colors of the National Woman’s Party. The pin, a sterling silver replica, was originally designed by Alice Paul in 1917 to commemorate the women who were arrested in January 1917 while picketing the White House.

Additional materials include NWP newsletters which announce programs to honor McClendon, color photographs of the march, a framed newspaper article about the march, photographs of Sarah McClendon speaking at NWP functions, and the drafts of two speeches which Ms. McClendon prepared for national meetings.

Want to Learn More about Sarah McClendon?

1. Visit the finding aid for the Sarah McClendon papers.
2. Check out our permanent digital exhibit.
3. Read more about her career as a White House Correspondent.

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Filed under Archives Month, Exhibits, Sarah McClendon Papers

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