In 1917, the Grand Forks Herald ran an article and photograph with the heading: “Western Girl Voted Prettiest Picket at the White House Gates.” The woman selected by fellow protestors was Beulah E. Amidon from Fargo.
Amidon, however, was far more than the “prettiest picket.” She was a suffragist, “practically from birth,” political organizer, and poet for the movement to enfranchise women. In the late 1910s, Beulah Amidon was an important figure on the national stage, yet few in North Dakota today are familiar with her.
Beulah Elizabeth Amidon was the daughter of federal Judge Charles Amidon and suffragist Beulah McHenry Amidon. Born in North Dakota in 1894, Amidon grew up in Fargo embracing the ideals of equality for women. She attended the Fargo College preparatory department, spent a school year studying in Berlin, returned to Fargo College, and then moved to New York City to study at Barnard.
While Amidon worked on suffrage issues at Barnard, she developed speaking and organizing skills. During summer break in 1913, Amidon campaigned with Jeannette Rankin, the soon to be Montana congresswoman, as she motored throughout North Dakota on a speaking tour. The tour with Rankin, accompanied by the elder Beulah Amidon, served as an important training ground. In 1914, the younger Beulah travelled North Dakota for the Votes for Women League as a speaker with seasoned suffragists, like Fargoan Clara Darrow, as well as on her own.
Amidon graduated Phi Beta Kappa and cum laude from Barnard College at 20 years of age in 1915. After graduation, she moved to California to study law at the University of Southern California after a petition she and other woman brought to attend Harvard Law School failed. In California, she continued active with woman suffrage, working as a Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) organizer.
In 1916, she abandoned her studies to focus full time on work as an organizer with CU and the National Woman’s Party (NWP). At an event in Los Angeles, speaker Inez Milholland Boissevain collapsed and Amidon addressed the crowd while Milholland rallied herself. Milholland could not, however, continue her engagements, and suffragist leader Alice Paul tapped Amidon to continue the tour on behalf of the party. Later, asked what Milholland had said before her collapse, Amidon replied: “President Wilson: How long must this go on? No liberty.” That became the suffragist slogan: “President Wilson: How long must women go on fighting for liberty?”
Amidon’s success organizing in California earned her a position at NWP headquarters in Washington, DC, as a national organizer. She worked securing support for the CU in South Dakota and Nebraska. When Alice Paul organized a silent parade to protest President Wilson’s 1917 inauguration, Beulah Amidon marched second behind Vida Milholland (Inez’s sister), and hoisted the banner Inez had carried in her first parade. After Amidon organized a mass meeting in Washington prior to the inauguration, North Dakota suffragists in attendance expressed pride in her work.
In the summer of 1917, Amidon spoke at the Minnesota NWP convention as part of a speaking tour of the state. In the Twin Cities, she moved seamlessly from giving speeches on street corners to meeting with potential donors at teas and other social events. She later appeared in North Dakota with Attorney General William Langer and gave a popular performance at the Spiritwood Lake Chautauqua.
Picketing at the White House, Amidon was knocked down by a sailor. She may also have been arrested for she contacted her father, and Judge Amidon provided legal advice in light of the authorities’ strategy of arresting and imprisoning suffragists.
Beulah Amidon continued working enthusiastically for the NWP through 1918 and into 1919 when, at her parents’ home in Fargo, she married Paul Grady Ratliff, an RAF pilot from Mississippi. Amidon Ratliff moved to Mississippi, and after her husband’s death in 1926, to New York where she had a long career writing for progressive publications.