On March 3, 1913, thousands of women marched in Washington, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, to demand the vote. The procession was organized by Alice Paul of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and was designed to reinvigorate the suffrage movement, which had gained success in six Western states but which was flagging on a national level. Paul had recently returned to the United States from Britain, where she participated in the more aggressive campaigns of British suffragists, and had experienced imprisonment and force-feeding. She pressed American suffragists to adopt the tactic of holding the current government responsible for the continued disenfranchisement of women, and the march was geared toward forcing the Wilson Administration to acknowledge the issue of suffrage.
The parade was led by the lawyer Inez Milholland, dramatically seated astride a white horse, and attended by delegations of suffragists from across the United States and around the world.
Unfortunately, racism reared its ugly head during the planning of the parade. Activist Mary Church Terrell wanted to bring a contingent from the National Association of Colored Women, but Alice Paul was afraid that Southern delegations would refuse to participate if the parade was integrated. Paul suggested that black women could march at the end of the parade, with the male (white, presumably) suffragists weirdly providing a buffer between the white women and black women. The attempt at segregation was heavily protested, and suffragists like Ida B. Wells refused to be shoved to the back, and marched with their own state delegations.
The parade didn’t continue without difficulties. Large numbers were in Washington for the inauguration, and the crowd around the marchers became hostile, pressing in on them and impeding their progress. Men heckled, groped, and shoved the marchers, and over 100 were treated for injuries at the local hospital. The police, who were supposed to maintain order, instead remained apathetic or participated in the heckling themselves. The situation got so bad that the Secretary of War literally called in the cavalry.
Nevertheless, many of the marchers arrived at the Treasury Building, where the organizers presented an allegorical tableau, in which the figure of Columbia summoned Justice, Charity, Liberty, Peace, and Hope in support of women’s suffrage. The pageant was designed to be eminently photographable, to maximize press coverage of the march.
Indeed, press coverage was generally very favorable, both for the spectacle of the procession and the pageant, and for indignation at the treatment of the suffragists by the hostile crowd. If the hecklers thought they would be successful in telling the marchers to get back in the kitchen, they were completely wrong. The suffragists had proved themselves to be dead serious and highly determined, and came out of the incident with reinvigorated public sympathy for their cause.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that much note has been made of the 100th anniversary of the march. You can find more photos from the march at The Atlantic, and there’s a brief article in the Washinton Post about a Howard University sorority that’s retracing the marching footsteps of their sorority’s founders, who participated in the 1913 parade.
For the anniversary of the 19th Amendment in August, I wrote a series of brief posts on some of the leaders of the suffrage movement. It’s hardly a comprehensive list, but maybe next year I’ll write about another batch!