100th anniversary of Washington’s Women’s Suffrage Parade on Sunday

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The 100th anniversary of Washington’s Women’s Suffrage Parade is on Sunday, in Washington, D.C. 100 years after suffrage march, activists walk in tradition of Inez Milholland:

At the 100th anniversary of Washington’s Women’s Suffrage Parade on Sunday, participants will march in the bold tradition of suffragette Inez Milholland — even if they, and most of America, have never heard of her. Of all the images and people invoked during this centennial celebration, perhaps the least remembered is the one woman said to have died for the cause.

Milholland, 27, sitting astride a white horse, in white, flowing, Joan of Arc robes is the most iconic image of that 1913 march. When she died three years later, she was hailed as a martyr of the women’s suffrage movement. That she is barely remembered today is part of the challenge and frustration for those who advocate for greater attention to women’s history and for those trying to build a national women’s history museum on the Mall.

Milholland
Library of Congress – A memorable image from the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade was that of Inez Milholland astride a white horse amid the 5,000 marchers.

The march, sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta sorority and including the National Women’s History Museum, the Sewall-Belmont House Museum and the National Organization for Women, retraces the original 5,000-person march down Pennsylvania Avenue. It will feature women in period costumes and focus broadly on women’s equality.

Milholland and Alice Paul, whom history remembers as an architect of women’s suffrage, organized the 1913 march, and infused it with allegory and symbolism. Justice, liberty, peace and hope were represented by women in robes and colorful scarves, accompanied by the sound of trumpets. Milholland helped wrap the broad themes of American life in canny visual appeals, including her youth and beauty at a time when suffragists were derided for being unfeminine and lacking respectability.

“The only people who have heard about her are those who majored in women’s history in college,” says Joan Wages, president and chief executive of the National Women’s History Museum, which has been trying to secure a permanent site on the Mall for nearly 20 years. “That is because the history textbooks still say that women were ‘given’ the vote in 1920. The 72 years that led up to that 1920 amendment are just erased.”

That Milholland is nearly forgotten underscores the need for a museum to house those images and people who helped build some of the nation’s most transformative movements, Wages says. Scholars have done all this research, “but it’s not making its way into the public arena, and that will be our role, to be the bridge.”

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For all their pageantry, the 1913 parade marchers were heckled and jeered mostly by men, large numbers of whom were in town for Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration the next day.

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Milholland frequently traveled for speaking engagements and activist events. She suffered from pernicious anemia but wouldn’t curtail her travel, despite the pleas of her family. In 1916, she collapsed in the middle of a women’s rights speech in Los Angeles and died a month later. She was 30 years old. Reportedly, her last words were “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” Poems have been written about Milholland, and Julia Ormond played her in the 2004 television movie about Alice Paul and the founding of the National Women’s Party, “Iron Jawed Angels.”

Centennial details

●The Delta Centennial Suffrage March opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. Sunday on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn. Marchers will head down Pennsylvania Avenue at 10 a.m. and end with a rally at noon at the Washington Monument.

●Citywide Suffrage Centennial activities kick off Thursday at the National Press Club and include exhibitions, demonstrations and movie screenings. More information is available at suffrage-centennial.org.

UPDATE: Michelle Bernard reports on an even lesser known story of the women's suffrage march in 1913, Despite the tremendous risk, African American women marched for suffrage, too (excerpts):

Marching against the status quo was not easy for white women, but it was even more difficult for African American women because of the racist sentiment of the day, as well as white suffragists who did not favor suffrage for black women.

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[D]espite the fact that the right to vote was no less important to black women as it was to black men and white women, African American women were told to march at the back of the parade with a black procession.

Despite all of this, the 22 founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority marched. It was the only African American women’s organization to participate.

The group was founded on Jan. 13, 1913, at Howard University, and its contribution to the Washington’s Women’s Suffrage Parade was the founders’ first public act.

Mary Church Terrell was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She marched with the 22 founders of the sorority under their banner. The daughter of former slaves, Terrell was one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women.

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, marched. A journalist, outspoken suffragist and  anti-lynching crusader, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, the first African American women’s suffrage organization. Her members joined her in marching for women’s suffrage at the 1913 parade in Washington.

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One hundred years later, on March 3, 2013, it was the highly accomplished women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in all their red-and-white glory that led the Suffrage Centennial Celebration. In so doing, they showed the world all what it means to be an American woman and all that African American women have contributed to making the nation what it is today.

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