Today, January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands of people from across the United States are expected to gather in our nation’s Capital and in cities around the country for the Women’s March on Washington to continue the fight for women’s rights. While this march will be momentous, it isn’t the first.
The 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade, organized by Alice Paul for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was the first suffragist parade in Washington, D.C. Over five-thousand women from all over the country collected to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in solidarity on the day before President Woodrow Wilson was to become president. They sought the right to vote and fully participate in government and political life.
The procession was full of pageantry. Dramatically dressed in a white cape and riding a white horse, Inez Milholland, a labor lawyer, led the parade that included nine bands, five mounted brigades, and twenty-six floats. Most marchers banded together in groups under banners representing their organizations, state names, and occupation—nurses, doctors, farmers, homemakers, actresses, pharmacists, and librarians. The first U.S. Congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin from Montana, attended, and she marched under her state banner. Journalist Nellie Bly and activist Helen Keller marched too.
African American journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells attended the march, as well, but defied the request that African American women march at the back of the parade under their own banner instead of with their state or occupation due to intense racial division. Wells stood on the sidelines for most of the parade, and later joined the Illinois delegation boldly marching between two white women.
The march began peacefully, but not long after it began, the women met with jeers and foul language from crowds of men in town for the inauguration. The protest turned physical, as women were grabbed and shoved bringing the proceedings nearly to a halt. Over one-hundred people were taken to the emergency hospital before a cavalry troop was issued to quell the chaos.
Some women did reach the end of the parade route at the Treasury Building for a pageant that depicted allegorically Columbia, Charity, Liberty, Peace and Hope. The pageant was described by The New York Times as “one of the most impressively beautiful spectacles ever staged in this country.”
Four years later on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress granting women the right to vote.
In 2020 the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March will be commemorated on the reverse side of the redesigned United States ten-dollar bill.