The First Women’s March on Washington

Cover of the program for the 1913 women's suffrage procession. Photo Credit- Library of Congress

Cover of the program for the 1913 women’s suffrage procession. Photo Credit- Library of Congress

The 1912 election was contentious and a dark horse candidate took the White House. (Please see our post on the Bull Moose Party for more details http://www.historynaked.com/bull-moose-party/ )

In the aftermath of that election, there were still social issues which had not been settled. The cause of women’s suffrage had been in play since the late 19th century, which persistent and courageous groups making strides on local levels. However, it was not enough. They had been fighting for 60 years with minimal progress on a national level. Something was big needed. Enter the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Alice Paul. Alice organized an enormous march on Washington in support of a constitutional amendment for voting rights for all. It was planned for March 3, 1913, one day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson for his part was not a fan of women’s rights and said women speaking in public gave him a “chilled, scandalized feeling”. Well, I hope he had a blanket and some smelling salts because it was on.

The parade was led by lawyer and activist Inez Milholland riding a white horse (Please see more on Inez in this posthttp://www.historynaked.com/inez-milholland-boissevain-ame…/ )
This was somewhat of a finger in the eye as Inez was both youthful and beautiful, and suffragettes were depicted by naysayers as neither. Behind Inez was a parade of 20 floats, nine bands and four mounted brigades. There was an allegorical performance at the Treasury Building. Celebrities marching were Helen Keller (For more on Helen, please this posthttp://www.historynaked.com/helen-keller/ ), reporter Nellie Bly (For more on Nellie, please see this post http://www.historynaked.com/nellie-bly-intrepid-reporter/ ) and actress Margaret Vale, the niece of Woodrow Wilson. All in all, 5,000 women came to Washington any way they could- on horseback, in wagons and even on foot. Even women from other countries came to participate. The marched under banners depicting their states or their occupation.

But the march wasn’t all rainbows and roses. Delegations from the National Association of Colored Women were planning to march, and the women from the southern states threatened to not show up. Arguments in amongst the leadership, it has been implicated between Alice Paul and Anna Howard Shaw, about what to do about the African American women. It was decided to allow them to march, but in a separate section after the other women. However, that didn’t fly with some of the marchers and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, African American journalist from Mississippi, refused to be segregated.  For more on Ida B. Wells-Barnett, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/ida-b-wells-barnett/

German actress Hedwig Reicher wears the costume of "Columbia" with other suffrage pageant participants standing in background in front of the Treasury Building in Washington, District of Columbia, on March 3, 1913. The performance was part of the larger Suffrage Parade of 1913. Photo Credit- Library of Congress

German actress Hedwig Reicher wears the costume of “Columbia” with other suffrage pageant participants standing in background in front of the Treasury Building in Washington, District of Columbia, on March 3, 1913. The performance was part of the larger Suffrage Parade of 1913. Photo Credit- Library of Congress

Most of the spectators were men who had come into town for Wilson’s inauguration, and were not a friendly audience. They tripped the marchers to make the fall, jostled them and yelled abuse. The police on duty either ignored this or were openly supportive of the mob. At the end of the day, one hundred marchers had been hospitalized and other smaller assaults were uncounted. These incidents led to negative news coverage, by Nellie Bly for one, and eventually congressional hearings.

The 19th amendment wasn’t passed for another seven years, but what the march did was galvanize the suffrage movement. The older generation was dying away, and this gave the younger generation the purpose and the drive to see it through.

ER