Women’s suffrage takes off in Washington DC
Thousands of women march through the US capital to the sound of jeers and abuse
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