–by Tessa Wakefield, USCHS intern
On March 3, 1913, the Women’s Suffrage Parade was held in Washington D.C. On Sunday, March 3, 2013, another parade marked the centennial anniversary of that event. The 1913 parade was an important step in what would be the final decade of the women’s fight for the vote, as it drew national attention towards the cause. The modern 2013 event set out to honor the women who dedicated their lives to the suffrage movement and to remember that historic day.
Organized largely by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, at the time part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the parade achieved the desired attention. While featuring over 5,000 women was certainly a draw, the riots that ensued really captured national attention. Male spectators along the route became restless, heckling and jeering at the women. Police officers supposedly protecting the parade stood by, seemingly enjoying what they saw around them, with one even remarking that the women “should stay home where they belonged.” By the end of the day, 100 marchers had been taken to the hospital.
The sorely-needed national attention resulted as outrage spread across the country at the treatment of the marchers. Congressional hearings were held with over 150 witnesses testifying about the day. The parade also caught the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, as Paul had timed the parade perfectly for the day before Wilson’s inauguration. Indeed, when Wilson arrived in D.C. on March 3, few people were at the station to meet him. When Wilson asked where the expected crowds were, the reply was, “watching the suffrage parade.”
One of my personal favorite stories from the 1913 march was the emergence of the iconic image of Inez Milholland, astride a white horse, leading the parade. Her image would become a national symbol for the suffrage movement and her death on the campaign trail a few years later turned Milholland into a martyr for the cause. She definitely was an amazing lady, clearly dedicated to furthering women’s lives.
The 2013 parade traced the historic route down Pennsylvania Avenue, culminating with a rally at the Washington Monument. I was able to participate in the 2013 march, having signed up through the Sewall-Belmont House. It was a surreal experience to know that exactly 100 years prior, women were walking the same path I was. While far calmer and lacking the sense of urgency and tension that permeated the 1913 event, the atmosphere was still electrifying as I gathered with thousands of other women on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn before the start of the parade.
Women of all ages congregated, from little girls wearing suffragist sashes and clutching signs thanking Alice Paul, to 91-year old Margaret Zierdt, who was determined to march. The parade was sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, with delegations from all 50 states and a few U.S. territories represented. Along with the Sewall-Belmont House, a variety of women’s groups were present, such as the National Women’s History Museum, NOW, and the National Women’s History Project. Some of those marchers were dressed in full-fledged period costumes, embodying the history of the day.
For a history nerd like me, it was a pretty amazing event to experience. I love women’s history and had never been around so many people who knew who Alice Paul was or were aware of the events of the women’s suffrage movement. The march was a unifying event for all generations and served as a strong reminder of the women who dedicated their lives to women’s rights. It was so great to see all of the women out on a cold, windy day to honor those that came before them and was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.