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 )

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 post…/ )
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 post ), reporter Nellie Bly (For more on Nellie, please see this post ) 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:

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.


The Green Fairy – Absinthe

15965613_395407387468016_154262216018447124_nIts precise origins are unknown but it has its roots throughout history. Absinthe is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (“grand wormwood”), together with green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs. It traditionally has a natural green colour but may also be colourless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as “la fée verte” (the green fairy).The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt, and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, c. 1550 BC. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. Moreover, there is evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavoured wine, absinthites oinos, in ancient Greece.

The first clear evidence of absinthe being drank as a spirit dates to the 18th century. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792. Ordinaire’s recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir. The Henriod sisters may have been making the elixir before Ordinaire’s arrival. Either way a certain Major Dubied acquired the formula from the sisters and in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805, they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name Maison Pernod Fils. It was extremely popular in France until the drink was banned in 1914.

Absinthe’s popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria preventive. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe home with them. The custom of drinking absinthe gradually became so popular in bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5 p.m. was called l’heure verte (“the green hour”). By the 1880s, mass production had caused the price of absinthe to drop sharply.

Absinthe was exported widely from its native France and Switzerland, and attained some degree of popularity in other countries, including Spain, Great Britain, USA, and the Czech Republic.15894602_395407377468017_8853685904483398138_n

New Orleans has a profound cultural association with absinthe, and is credited as the birthplace of the Sazerac, perhaps the earliest absinthe cocktail. The Old Absinthe House bar, located on Bourbon Street, serves as a prominent historical landmark. Originally named The Absinthe Room, it was opened in 1874 by a Catalan bartender named Cayetano Ferrer.

In 1905, it was reported that Jean Lanfray, a Swiss farmer, murdered his family and attempted to take his own life after drinking absinthe. The fact that Lanfray was an alcoholic who had consumed considerable quantities of wine and brandy prior to drinking two glasses of absinthe was overlooked or ignored, therefore placing the blame for the murders solely on absinthe. A petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland collected more than 82,000 signatures. A referendum was subsequently held on banning the drink on 5 July 1908.After it was approved by voters, the prohibition of absinthe was then written into the Swiss constitution.

In 1906, both Belgium and Brazil banned the sale and distribution of absinthe, although these were not the first countries to take such action. Absinthe had been banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State.The Netherlands in 1909, Switzerland in 1910, the United States in 1912, and France in 1914.

In the 1990s, realising the UK had never formally banned absinthe, British importer BBH Spirits began to import Hill’s Absinth from the Czech Republic, which brought its popularity back. In December 2007, St. George Absinthe Verte, produced by St. George Spirits of Alameda,California, became the first brand of American-made absinthe produced in the United States since the ban. Since that time, other micro-distilleries have started producing small batch artisanal absinthes in the US. In May 2011, the French Absinthe Ban of 1915 was repealed following petitions by the Fédération Française des Spiritueux, who represent French distillers.


Ludwig the Mad King

Ludwig II's coronation portrait, 1865 Photo Credit- scan from Michael Petzet, Ludwig II. und seine Schlösser.
Ludwig II’s coronation portrait, 1865 Photo Credit- scan from Michael Petzet, Ludwig II. und seine Schlösser.

The Wittelsbachs ruled Bavaria and in a landscape of mentally unstable royals, they were a special breed.  Ludwig was born into a family rife with eccentricities if not downright psychosis.  His aunt Alexandra was convinced she had swallowed an entire grand piano made of glass.  That just lets you know what we are dealing with.

Ludwig was born to Maximilian II and his wife Princess Marie of Prussia at Nymphenburg Palace.  They were a mismatch pair even though they were cousins as Maximilian was Catholic and Marie was Protestant.  Marrying cousins is never a great idea, however, in a family rife with mental illness it’s a disaster.  When both Ludwig and his younger brother Otto began showing signs of mental instability the Wittelsbachs closed ranks and tried to blame Marie’s Prussian blood.  No dice.  The poor kids had problems on all sides.

He was originally going to be named Otto, but his grandfather Ludwig I stepped in and insisted the new baby named after him.  The new prince was born on his grandfather’s birthday and even in the same hour, so why not?  Ludwig I had his own problems over and above being overbearing, specifically with a  scandalous actress named Lola Montez, but that is another post.  Actually, the two Ludwigs became very close, much closer than Ludwig and his father.  However, the young prince was not very close to anyone in his family.  He grew up isolated in a very sparse and sheltered environment.  Like many lonely children, he lived in his own head and had a vivid imagination.  According to his mother, he enjoyed dressing up and play acting.  His favorites were Medieval chivalry and legends and fairy tale castles.  These interests turned into an obsession later in life.  His childhood home was Hohenschwangau, or “high region of the swan”.  This made a huge impression on Ludwig, who later became known as the “Swan King”.

Ludwig was thrust from this sheltered environment into the limelight when his father unexpectedly died in 1864.  Ludwig became king at age 18, but had no training or education for a life of politics.  He himself admitted, “I became king much too early. I had not learned enough. I had made such a good beginning … with the learning of state laws. Suddenly I was snatched away from my books and set on the throne. Well, I am still trying to learn …”  The only bright spot for the young king was being able to meet his idol Richard Wagner.  He had been exposed to Wagner’s music at a young age and he was fascinated with the Swan Knight from Lohengrin.  Ludwig quickly became obsessed with Wagner and the legends his operas depicted.  The two began a copious correspondence and the king financed the composer- paying his debts and building him a new Festspeilhaus concert hall in Bayreuth in 1876.  His advisers at court were not happy with this obsession as they felt it was throwing money down a rathole.  The country had already suffered a defeat in the Austro-Prussian War, where Bavaria had sided with Austria.  They had joined the newly created Northern German Confederation in 1870, but maintained a privileged status with quasi-independence.  This loss of status to Prussia haunted Ludwig and he longed to be an omnipotent and powerful medieval rules of old. However, the reality was Bavaria was short of cash as wars will do and no one in the government wanted to spend what they had on some composer.  Ludwig was forced to exile Wagner in 1865, but they remained close until Wagner’s death in 1883.

Even with Wagner out of the way, Ludwig found other obsessions to pour money into.  In 1868, he began an extensive building campaign.  Three massive castles were built-  Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee.  In these castles, he made Wagner’s world of German legend come to life.  Neuschwanstein is probably the most famous of these castles in southwest Bavaria.  The theme of the castle is the Swan Knight, first encountered by Ludwig in Lohengrin.  Underneath it, there is a private grotto and cave complete with swan gondola.  Ludwig became obsessed with the Holy Grail and began to identify himself as the mythical Grail King.   Neuschwanstein became the Castle of the Holy Grail and the Throne Room was redesigned as the Hall of the Holy Grail.  Unbelievably, Neuschwanstein was not designed by an architect.  Christian Jank was a theatrical set designer, which accounts for its magical appearance.  In fact, Neuschwanstein is the model for the Disney castle at DisneyLand and DisneyWorld.

By 1886, Ludwig had become a recluse.  He slept all day and did not get up until 5pm at night.  He insisted on having dinners with long dead monarchs and had a special table constructed that lowered through the floor so he would see no servants change the courses.  Ludwig threw massive performances just for him in his castles of Wagner operas, and only communicated to his ministers by letter.  He had tried to get married, but had chickened out.  There is much speculation that he was a homosexual.  There were a series of close friendships with men, but this was just rumor.  However, he was starting on a new castle at Falkenstein and was about to spare no expense.  He was already 14 million marks in debt and foreign banks were about to seize all his property.  His ministers had had enough.

Neuschwanstein Castle Photo Credit-
Neuschwanstein Castle Photo Credit-

From January 1886 to March 1886, the Ärztliches Gutachten was assembled.  This was a medical report on whether Ludwig was fit to rule.  Ludwig’s uncle Luitpold had agreed to depose him only on the condition Ludwig was found insane.  So the ministers were going to do just that.  Count von Holnstein, Ludwig’s chief opponent in the ministry, was in charge of compiling the report, which turned into a litany of complaints.  The report was certified by Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, Dr. Hubert von Gashey, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Hagen and Dr. Max Hubrich.  They concluded Ludwig was suffering from paranoia, a condition which today would be classified as schizophrenia, and unfit to rule.  They also pointed to the fact Ludwig’s brother Otto was certifiably insane as the proof of family instability.  The accuracy of this report is not known.  However, a later study led by Heinz Häfner suggests Ludwig was not schizophrenic.  In their article in the History Psychiatry, they state Ludwig’s behavior did not “provide reliable evidence of his purported mental illness.”  It turns out, none of the doctors ever spoke to Ludwig.  They based this diagnosis on secret interviews with his servants.

Despite these questions later, the verdict of insanity was all that was needed to dethrone Ludwig on June 10, 1886.  It did not go well.  The ministers as well as Dr. Gudden arrived at Neuschwanstein to place Ludwig into custody, however, he had been tipped off to their arrival.  He summoned the local police to protect him, who turned back the ministers at gunpoint.  To make things even stranger, Baroness Spera von Truchseß attacked the ministers, hitting them with an umbrella.  It didn’t matter.  Luitpold was proclaimed as Prince Regent, and Ludwig was finally apprehended and taken to Berg Castle on the shores of Lake Starnberg.  And here’s where a weird story gets weirder.

On June 13, Ludwig and Dr. Gudden took a stroll around the grounds alone.  They were last seen at 6:30 pm.  The two did not return even after a huge storm with heavy rain and lightning hit.  Their bodies were found floating in the shallows of the lake.  Gudden had sustained blows to the head and neck and showed signs of strangulation.  Ludwig’s death was ruled a suicide even though there was no water in his lungs and he had been a strong swimmer in his youth.  Much later, Countess Josephine von Wrba-Kaunitz would show visitors a coat she claimed was worn by Ludwig when he died with two bullet holes in the back.  Unfortunately, this coat was lost in a fire.  A Bavarian art historian and specialist in 19th century painting also analyzed a portrait painted of Ludwig only hours after his death.  Siegfried Wichmann maintains there is a trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth, which does not support the drowning theory.  

We will never know the truth as the remaining members of the Wittelsbach family refuse to have Ludwig’s body exhumed for an autopsy.  A memorial cross was constructed in the lake where Ludwig’s body was found.


Emperor Norton I of the United States

emperor_joshua_a-_norton_iSo those of us here in the United States go to the polls today.  Wouldn’t it be just easier if we just had an emperor?  According to one man in San Francisco, we did and it was him.  On September 17, 1859, Joshua A. Norton declared himself the “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico”.  Who was this illustrious emperor and why haven’t we heard of him?

Joshua A. Norton was born February 4, 1819, probably in Scotland.  Not much is known about his early life, but before settling in San Francisco he lived in Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope and was a member of the Cape Mounted Riflemen.  He arrived in California in 1849 and like many others hoped to make his fortune in the Gold Rush.  He was able to make good for a time, turning a $40,000 stake into a quarter million dollar fortune, but lost it all to speculation and greed.  Again, he tried to make his fortune in speculation of rice during the 1853 rice shortage.  He was thwarted when fresh shipments arrived and the bottom fell out of the rice market.  At that point, he became involved in extensive litigation as his partners in the rice scheme sued him.  One of the cases went all the way to the Supreme Court in November 1853, where he was ruled against.  His legal troubles combined with the loss of his fortune seemed to take a toll on Norton’s sanity.

In September 1859 he appeared in the offices of the San Francisco Bulletin with a decree to be published.  The editors published it on a lark and the notice in the September 17, 1859 read:

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens…I, Joshua Norton…declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States.” It went on to command representatives from all the states to convene in the Bay Area, “to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring.” The edict was signed, “NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.”

He claimed that an act of legislature in 1853 made him the Emperor of California, however, because California was a state he felt this was inappropriate.  He needed to be the Emperor of the whole country.   After his declaration was published, he took up the duties of his office.  The society of San Francisco was amused and ran with the joke.  The Emperor became one of the city’s most beloved oddballs.  He could be found in the best restaurants eating for free and accepting “fealty” from jokers.  He was easy to spot as he was always dressed in a navy blue military style coat adorned with many brass buttons and gilt epaulettes.  A tall beaver hat, with a cockade of feathers and a rosette, cocked over his curly dark hair.  He carried a walking stick made of grapevine from one of his subjects in Oregon.  It was sod with a ferule and gold-mounted, as befit a scepter.  He was often attended by two street dogs, Bummer and Lazarus.  In reality, the “Mad Monarch” lived in a 6 x 10 feet room in the Eureka Lodging House with sparse furniture and a threadbare carpet.

His proclamations were always published in the papers.  First he abolished Congress, and when Congress continued to meet despite his decree he ordered General Winfield Scott to march to Washington DC and arrest them.  Then on the eve of the Civil War,  he dissolved the Union altogether and declared an absolute monarchy.  Then he declared himself the “Protector of Mexico.  However, he later abandoned this title saying, “It is impossible to protect such an unsettled nation.”

Norton’s celebrity grew and photos of him in imperial dress were popular souvenirs.  No play opening night or restaurant opening was complete without him.  He would pay them by posting an imperial IOU, which read “By Appointment to His Imperial Majesty, Norton I.”  He captured the imagination of Mark Twain, who immortalized him as a character in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

The Emperor died of a stroke on January 8, 1880.  San Francisco gave him a funeral fit for the Emperor he thought he was.  “LE ROI EST MORT” (“THE KING IS DEAD”), read the headline in the Chronicle. “He is dead,” lamented another paper, “and no citizen of San Francisco could have been taken away who would be more generally missed.”  Some 10,000 loyal subjects turned up to pay their respects.


Sources available on request

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony-   Best Friends with a Mission

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony about 1870

Different cultures have different takes on the rights of both genders; however, in 19th century America, women did not have many rights.  They were considered the “weaker sex” and inferior to males both physically and mentally.  Women were supposed to confine their activities to taking care of a the home for their husbands and children.  Married women could not legally own anything as ownership of all possessions reverted to their husbands.  A lady could not travel without a male escort and certainly could not give a speech in public.  It goes without saying that at this time, women could not vote.  Into this society, two women came together and through their work and friendship were able to break through these boundaries.

Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 to a family of Quakers.  In her family, girls were educated and valued the same as boys.  This was in contrast to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was born November 15, 1812 to a upper class family where her brothers were given opportunities she was not.  As the two women got older, the inequities in the society were driven home.  Susan became a teacher and was routinely paid one quarter of the salary she would have received as a man.  Elizabeth married and began having children.  As many women after found out, as much as she loved her children and being a mother, it could be extremely isolating.  Especially at that time, since the medical risks of pregnancy were higher at that time due to lack of adequate medical care.  Edicate also dictated that a lady in the later stages of pregnancy did not show herself, leaving Elizabeth homebound and alone.

Despite these obstacles, both women became active in the antislavery and temperance movements.  They met in 1851 at an antislavery meeting in Seneca Falls, New York.  Amelia Bloomer, a woman’s rights proponent who became famous by wearing “bloomer pants” instead of dresses, introduced the two women.  Elizabeth described the meeting later by saying, ““There she [Susan] stood with her good, earnest face and genial smile, dressed in gray delaine, hat and all the same color, relieved with pale blue ribbons, the perfection of neatness and sobriety. I liked her thoroughly, and why I did not at once invite her home with me to dinner, I do not know.”  The two were fast friends.  

Together they made a formidable team.  Susan had a flare for organization and managing details, while Elizabeth had the overarching vision.  Soon after their meeting, the two launched The Revolution, a newspaper promoting the national women’s suffrage movement.  Susan traveled and gave the speeches, as Elizabeth could not travel with her growing family.  Elizabeth did most of the writing, and authored books, pamphlets and many of the speeches Susan gave.  In 1869, the two formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA).  According to Anna Howard Shaw, “She [Miss Anthony] often said that Mrs. Stanton was the brains of the new association, while she herself was merely its hands and feet; but in truth the two women worked marvelously together, for Mrs. Stanton was a master of words and could write and speak to perfection of the things Susan B. Anthony saw and felt but could not herself express.”

The two worked together for 51 years for rights for women.  Elizabeth died in 1902 and Susan in 1904, but they had not yet seen full women’s suffrage.  Some of the western states had allowed women to vote, but the Constitutional amendment allowing it would not pass until 1920.  They had to hand the fight over to the next generation of suffragettes.  In 1902, near the end of Elizabeth’s life, Susan wrote to her friend.  “It is fifty-one years since we first met, and we have been busy through every one of them, stirring up the world to recognize the rights of women.  We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with the hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the fully admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. They have practically one point to gain—the suffrage; we had all.”


Sources available on request