Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Woman's History Month - Suffrage Parade

This is what Washington, DC looked like on March 3, 1913.  Eight thousand women marching for the right to vote.  That is only 100 years ago.  It took 7 more years before the right to vote, the 19th Amendment, was ratified on August 18, 1920 and adopted on August 26, 1920.  In the United States, women had been working to get the right to vote since 1878.

New Zealand, Australia, Finland and Norway gave women the right to vote prior to the United States.  

"We're #1" the chant goes.

Not always.

“There would be nothing like this happen if you would stay at home.”2 
On Monday, March 3, 1913, clad in a white cape astride a white horse, lawyer Inez Milholland led the great woman suffrage parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation's capital. Behind her stretched a long line with nine bands, four mounted brigades, three heralds, about twenty-four floats, and more than 5,000 marchers.3 
Women from countries that had enfranchised women held the place of honor in the first section of the procession [picture]. Then came the “Pioneers” who had been struggling for so many decades to secure women's right to vote. The next sections celebrated working women, who were grouped by occupation and wearing appropriate garb—nurses in uniform [picture], women farmers, homemakers, women doctors and pharmacists, actresses, librarians, college women in academic gowns. Harriet Hifton of the Library of Congress Copyright Division led the librarians' contingent. The state delegations followed, and finally the separate section for male supporters of women's suffrage. All had come from around the country to “march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”4 
see caption below

Woman's suffrage parade, Wash., D.C. Mar., 1913. G.V. Buck. Photograph, 1913 March. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ61-1153.
full caption
 | bibliographic record
The procession began late, but all went well for the first few blocks [picture]. Soon, however, the crowds, mostly men in town for the following day's inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, surged into the street making it almost impossible for the marchers to pass [picture]. Occasionally only a single file could move forward. Women were jeered, tripped, grabbed, shoved, and many heard “indecent epithets” and “barnyard conversation.”5 Instead of protecting the parade, the police “seemed to enjoy all the ribald jokes and laughter and part participated in them.”6 One policeman explained that they should stay at home where they belonged. The men in the procession heard shouts of “Henpecko” and “Where are your skirts?” As one witness explained, “There was a sort of spirit of levity connected with the crowd. They did not regard the affair very seriously.”7
see caption below

Hedwig Reicher as “Columbia” in the suffrage pageant.Photograph, March 3, 1913. George Grantham Bain Collection (LOT 11052-2). Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-70382.
full caption
 | bibliographic record
But to the women, the event was very serious. Helen Keller [picture] “was so exhausted and unnerved by the experience in attempting to reach a grandstand . . . that she was unable to speak later at Continental hall [sic ].”8 Two ambulances “came and went constantly for six hours, always impeded and at times actually opposed, so that doctor and driver literally had to fight their way to give succor to the injured”9 [picture]. One hundred marchers were taken to the local Emergency Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, responding to a request from the chief of police, authorized the use of a troop of cavalry from nearby Fort Myer to help control the crowd.10 
Despite enormous difficulties, many of those in the parade completed the route. [Map the procession from near the Capitol to the Treasury Building.] When the procession reached the Treasury Building, one hundred women and children presented an allegorical tableau written especially for the event to show “those ideals toward which both men and women have been struggling through the ages and toward which, in co-operation and equality, they will continue to strive” [picture]. The pageant began with “The Star Spangled Banner” and the commanding figure of Columbia dressed in national colors, emerging from the great columns at the top of the Treasury Building steps. Charity entered, her path strewn with rose petals. Liberty followed to the “Triumphal March” from “Aida” and a dove of peace was released. In the final tableau, Columbia, surrounded by Justice, Charity, Liberty, Peace, and Hope, all in flowing robes and colorful scarves, with trumpets sounding [picture], stood to watch the oncoming procession.11 The New York Times described the pageant as “one of the most impressively beautiful spectacles ever staged in this country”12 [picture]. (note:  I would have LOVED to have seen this!!)
At the railway station a few blocks away, president-elect Wilson and the presidential party arrived to little fanfare. One of the incoming president's staff asked, “‘Where are all the people?’;—‘Watching the suffrage parade,’ the police told him.”13 The next day Wilson would be driven down the miraculously clear, police-lined Pennsylvania Avenue cheered on by a respectful crowd.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


  1. What amazing courage these women had!

    1. Yes, they were remarkable! As disgusted as I get with politics and threaten to not vote, I remember what these women endured in order for us to be able to vote.


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