“This is the most conspicuous and important demonstration that has ever been attempted by suffragists in this country…. This parade will be taken to indicate the importance of the suffrage movement by the press of the country and the thousands of spectators from all over the United States gathered in Washington for the Inauguration” – The National American Women Suffrage Association march on Washington DC, on the March 3 1913
One hundred and six years ago yesterday, Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as the 28th President of the United States. But, when he arrived in Washington the day before, only a small number of people were there to greet him. Why? On the eve of his oath of office, more than 5,000 women descended on Washington to fight for the right to vote. The crowds they drew were likely made up of many who would have gone to welcome Wilson at the train station, hoping for a look at the President Elect. However, the PR genius of Alice Paul led to a media and crowd spectacle that had not been seen in Washington but once before.
On March 3rd, 1913, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and Rosalie Jones at the head of the parade, 5,000 participants traveled from throughout the US to “hike” to Capitol Hill to demand a Constitutional Amendment for women’s suffrage. Marchers included celebrities of the day, actresses and journalists, and such women as activist Helen Keller, aristocrat and suffragist Inez Milholland, and African American activists Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell. Although this was the second time protests descended on Washington to demand rights, it was the first time pageantry and parade had evolved into a statement of protest. And it was the very first time women had been the crusaders.
Women marchers faced horrible harassment from protesters, mainly men, some of whom showed up to hurl insults, spit at them, and some inciting violence. Over 100 women were hospitalized for injury that day. Nevertheless, they persisted and continued on to their destination.
Facing significantly more risk, African American women attended and marched on Washington this day as well. The 22 founders of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at Howard University registered and were the only African American women’s organization to participate. Though asked to march at the back of the parade, Ida B. Wells, one of the Deltas, defiantly joined the Illinois delegation, emerging from the crowd and marching between two white women.
It is important to remember that suffrage was not won by simply asking for the right to vote. It required protests, parades, and marches on the nation’s capital and in cities throughout the US to bring attention to this issue and make citizens aware. A fight that began in 1848, took 72 years to be brought to the national stage, and then another 7 before it was ratified into the Constitution. It was long, hard, and often brutal but these women paved the way for rights we enjoy today. Let us not forget this, as we prepare to celebrate this right that we have had for nearly 100 years now. And let us always honor them and remember that though the journey may not be easy, it can be completed victoriously.