Women’s suf­frage takes off in Wash­ing­ton DC

Thou­sands of women march through the US cap­i­tal to the sound of jeers and abuse

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

On 3 March 1913, Wash­ing­ton DC was a city wait­ing for its new mas­ter. The next day, Woodrow Wil­son was due to be sworn in as the pres­i­dent of the United States, and there was a pal­pa­ble sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion.

For thou­sands – per­haps mil­lions – of women, how­ever, it was 3 March it­self that was the real red-let­ter day. The day be­fore Wil­son’s in­au­gu­ra­tion had been cho­sen for the cap­i­tal’s first suf­frag­ist pa­rade, or­gan­ised by the Na­tional Amer­i­can Woman Suf­frage As­so­ci­a­tion “in a spirit of protest against the present po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion of so­ci­ety, from which women are ex­cluded”.

Al­though the pa­rade got off to a slow start, it was soon ev­i­dent that this was no pass­ing demon­stra­tion. Never be­fore had so many women marched to­gether in pur­suit of their right to vote. March­ing down Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue with two dozen floats, nine bands and four mounted brigades, they were led by the figure of the lawyer and ac­tivist Inez Mil­hol­land, atop a white horse and wear­ing a white cape.

For all too many of the marchers, how­ever, the pa­rade quickly be­came an or­deal. Af­ter a few blocks, the women be­gan to be jeered and ha­rassed by men on the side­walks. Ob­servers re­ported hear­ing tor­rents of “in­de­cent ep­i­thets” and “barn­yard con­ver­sa­tion”. In­stead of in­ter­ven­ing, the Wash­ing­ton po­lice did noth­ing; in­deed, some of them joined in the abuse.

The cover illustration on the of­fi­cial pro­gramme for the 1913 women’s suf­frage march in Wash­ing­ton DC, which saw thou­sands take to the streets of the US cap­i­tal

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