This year, the League of Women Voters celebrates the 100th anniversary of a much less-well-known event: the Woman's Suffrage March. On March 3, 1913, thousands of women gathered on the streets of Washington DC to bring public attention to their own civil rights issue: the right to vote.
Suffrage was sacred to these women, as sacred as the civil rights movement 50 years later. For African American women like Ida Wells-Barnett, winning the vote would represent a double victory both as a woman and as a black American. Here’s more from Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote:
Eight thousand strong, the parade wound down
Pennsylvania Avenue. At the front rode a
woman on a white horse. There were floats and bands, foreign delegates, male
suffragists, college students, factory women, and representatives from ,
a local black college. To keep the parade about suffrage and not about race,
these African American women were mingled with the male marchers at the back. Howard University
One of the African American women who marched in the Washington suffrage parade did not do as she was told. Ida Wells-Barnett was a member of the
suffrage delegation who traveled to Washington
to join in the suffrage parade.
When she arrived, parade organizers told her that she could not march with the rest of the delegation. As a black woman, she must march with others like her at the end of the parade. But Wells-Barnett mingled with the crowd, and when the
women marched past, she walked into the street and joined in. Nothing was going
to stop her from marching with Illinois’s
On the steps of the US Treasury Department, women in white staged a tableau, with the figure of
Columbia as their leader. Standing silently,
these costumed performers portrayed American ideals: liberty, charity, justice,
peace, and hope among them.
Half a million people crowded the parade route. Some were there to watch, but others were there to make trouble. Plenty of men despised the thought of women getting the vote. Pushing and shoving and name-calling began, and as the parade wound on, things fell apart and turned ugly.
The Woman’s Journal reported the following:
Women were spat upon, . . . [s]lapped in the face, tripped up, pelted with burning cigar stubs, and insulted by jeers and obscene language too vile to print or repeat.—“Rowdies seized and mauled young girls.”—“A very gray-haired college woman was knocked down.”—“The parade was continually stopped by the turbulence of the crowd.”
The police stood by and did nothing to help. One hundred people went to
. In the midst of
all the confusion, one thing now was clear. The women’s suffrage movement was
going to cause a fuss. Emergency
Dress Up for Suffrage!