The Women’s Suffrage March of 1913: The Parade That Overshadowed Another Presidential Inauguration a Century Ago

On Fri­day, a per­son who has insult­ed, demeaned, and threat­ened tens of mil­lions of the country’s cit­i­zens will take the oath of office for the pres­i­den­cy of the Unit­ed States. That’s an extra­or­di­nary thing, and the reac­tion will also be extraordinary—a Women’s March the fol­low­ing day in Wash­ing­ton, DC expect­ed to draw hun­dreds of thou­sands of every gen­der, race, creed, and ori­en­ta­tion. Sis­ter march­es and protests will take place in every major city on the East and West Coast and every­where in-between, as well as inter­na­tion­al­ly in cities like Lon­don, Syd­ney, Buenos Aires, Cal­gary, Barcelona, Dar es Salaam… the list goes on and on and on.

Why Women’s March­es if these events are all-inclu­sive? In addi­tion to respond­ing to the pub­lic dis­plays of con­tempt for women we’ve wit­nessed over and over in the past year, the events intend to reaf­firm the rights of all peo­ple. The orga­niz­ers suc­cinct­ly state that “women’s rights are human rights. We stand togeth­er, rec­og­niz­ing that defend­ing the most mar­gin­al­ized among us is defend­ing all of us.”

A Rawl­sian pro­gres­sive notion, and also a “Kingian” one, a descrip­tion the march applies to its non­vi­o­lent prin­ci­ples. What they don’t say is that there is also sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal prece­dent for the action. Over 100 years ago, anoth­er women’s march coin­cid­ed with a pres­i­den­tial swear­ing-in, this time of Woodrow Wil­son in March of 1913.

March­ing for the cause of suf­frage, women from around the coun­try and the world arrived in DC on March 3rd, the day before Wilson’s inau­gu­ra­tion. Many of those marchers had hiked 234 miles from New York in 17 days, bear­ing a let­ter to the Pres­i­dent-elect, writes Mash­able, “demand­ing that he make suf­frage a pri­or­i­ty of his admin­is­tra­tion and warn­ing that the women of the nation would be watch­ing ‘with an intense inter­est such as has nev­er before been focused upon the admin­is­tra­tion of any of your pre­de­ces­sors.’” Orga­nized by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns of the Nation­al Amer­i­can Woman Suf­frage Asso­ci­a­tion, the march promised, in their words, “the most con­spic­u­ous and impor­tant demon­stra­tion that has ever been attempt­ed by suf­frag­ists in this coun­try.”

The parade was filled with pageantry. “Clad in a white cape astride a white horse,” writes the Library of Con­gress, “lawyer Inez Mul­hol­land led the great woman suf­frage par­age 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.” As you can see in the film footage at the top and the images here from the LoC—including the draw­ing of the parade route above by Lit­tle Nemo car­toon­ist Win­sor McK­ay—the parade drew a huge glob­al coali­tion. It also drew ridicule, harass­ment, and vio­lence from groups in DC for the fol­low­ing day’s fes­tiv­i­ties. As the LoC writes:

[A]ll went well for the first few blocks. 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. Occa­sion­al­ly only a sin­gle file could move for­ward. Women were jeered, tripped, grabbed, shoved, and many heard “inde­cent epi­thets” and “barn­yard con­ver­sa­tion.” Instead of pro­tect­ing the parade, the police “seemed to enjoy all the rib­ald jokes and laugh­ter and in part par­tic­i­pat­ed in them.” One police­man explained that they should stay at home where they belonged.

Many marchers were injured; “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.’” The event includ­ed sev­er­al promi­nent fig­ures, includ­ing Helen Keller, “who was unnerved by the expe­ri­ence.” Also present was Jean­nette Rankin, who, writes Mash­able, “would become the first woman elect­ed to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives four years lat­er.” Nel­ly Bly marched, as did jour­nal­ist and anti-lynch­ing activist Ida B. Wells, “who marched with the Illi­nois del­e­ga­tion despite the com­plaints of some seg­re­ga­tion­ist marchers.”

In fact, though the selec­tive images sug­gest oth­er­wise, the march was more inclu­sive than the suf­frag­ist move­ment is gen­er­al­ly giv­en cred­it for. Over the objec­tions of most­ly South­ern del­e­gates, many black women joined the ranks. After “telegrams and protests poured in” protest­ing seg­re­ga­tion, mem­bers of the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Col­ored Women “marched accord­ing to their State and occu­pa­tion with­out let or hin­drance,” not­ed the NAACP jour­nal Cri­sis. And yet, when the wom­en’s vote was final­ly achieved in 1920, that gen­er­al cat­e­go­ry still did not include black women. The misog­y­ny on dis­play that day was vicious, but still per­haps not as endem­ic as the country’s racism, which exist­ed in large degree with­in suf­frag­ist groups as well.

Once the press broad­cast news of the marchers’ mis­treat­ment, there was a mas­sive pub­lic out­cry that helped rein­vig­o­rate the suf­frage move­ment. Sev­er­al oth­er artists than McK­ay found inspi­ra­tion in the march; Cleve­land Plain Deal­er car­toon­ist James Don­a­hey, for exam­ple, “sub­sti­tut­ed women for men in a car­toon based on the famous paint­ing ‘Wash­ing­ton Cross­ing the Delaware,’” writes the Library of Con­gress. Anoth­er car­toon­ist, George Fol­som, doc­u­ment­ed the stages of the hike from New York, with cap­tions addressed to male read­ers. The strip above says, “they are mak­ing his­to­ry mates—be sure you save it for your descen­dants.” Anoth­er strip reads “Brave women all, none braver mates. Put this away and look at it when they win.”

At the Library of Congress’s Amer­i­can Women site, you’ll find a wealth of resources for research­ing the his­to­ry and impact of the 1913 Suf­frage Parade. To find out more about the hun­dreds of con­tem­po­rary Women’s Marches—open to peo­ple of every “race, eth­nic­i­ty, reli­gion, immi­gra­tion sta­tus, sex­u­al iden­ti­ty, gen­der expres­sion, eco­nom­ic sta­tus, age or dis­abil­i­ty”—see the web­site here or read this Rolling Stone inter­view with orga­niz­er Lin­da Sar­sour.

via Mash­able

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Odd Vin­tage Post­cards Doc­u­ment the Pro­pa­gan­da Against Women’s Rights 100 Years Ago

Down­load Images From Rad Amer­i­can Women A‑Z: A New Pic­ture Book on the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nism

The First Fem­i­nist Film, Ger­maine Dulac’s The Smil­ing Madame Beudet (1922)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (10) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (10)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Rho says:

    ..Well said, and well rep­re­sent­ed Mr. Jones..!!

  • Brian says:

    But these pro­test­ers did­n’t have a prob­lem with War­ren G Hard­ing? Go fig­ure.

  • Randy says:

    In 1913, in the USA, you also could­n’t vote if you were a man who was: native Amer­i­can, Chi­nese immi­grant, res­i­dent of DC, poor, black or lati­no, not a land-own­er, younger than 21, or deployed over­seas. And of course the vast major­i­ty-male prison pop­u­la­tion can have its vot­ing rights tak­en away even today.

    But many of these men could cer­tain­ly be draft­ed into war by their “elect­ed” gov­ern­ment, and that did hap­pen repeat­ed­ly in the ear­ly- and mid-20th cen­tu­ry.


  • Josh Jones says:

    All excel­lent points, Randy. For most of the nation’s his­to­ry, the vote was more far exclu­sive than most peo­ple know.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks, Rho!

  • Bill W. says:

    Back in the days when Amer­i­can women had REAL, and not First-World prob­lems, as women here today have.

  • Amy says:

    The fact that the com­ments sec­tion on this won­der­ful arti­cle con­sists only of men talk­ing amongst them­selves about oth­er issues is fur­ther evi­dence that action is still need­ed.

  • Brian says:



  • E says:

    Amy, women are the ones who do not give men the space to speak. Every time men talk about THEIR his­tor­i­cal exclu­sion from the social and polit­i­cal world, THEIR lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in gov­ern­ment, THEIR unequal pay for equal work, all I hear is women dis­miss­ing these very real prob­lems by sud­den­ly bring­ing up the dis­crim­i­na­tion their minor­i­ty pop­u­la­tions have faced (while con­ve­nient­ly for­get­ting that peo­ple of either gen­der could belong to those groups and thus that gen­der is not the fac­tor that is caus­ing the dis­crim­i­na­tion!). Can you imag­ine believ­ing that any injus­tice one group expe­ri­ences eras­es the legit­i­ma­cy and impor­tance of the injus­tices anoth­er group faces? It’s com­plete­ly unrea­son­able, and if we did­n’t live in this infer­nal matri­archy no one would give any cre­dence to such argu­ments!

  • chaderit the first says:

    This arti­cle was pret­ty kewwwl bruh.10/10 would rec­comend. used it to con­vince my grand­ma of stuff.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.