It is said that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and in 1913 the lion let out a very loud roar. On March 13, 1913, more than 6,000 woman suffrage supporters marched in a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Since Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Seneca Falls Convention in July 1848, the push for voting rights became an important issue for women in the United States. The suffrage movement gained momentum throughout the 1800s, with Stanton creating the National American Women Suffrage Association in 1890.
Alice Paul, a young Quaker from New Jersey who went to college at Swathmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, was a leader in the NAWSA. She chaired the association’s congressional committee and organized the 1913 march along with Lucy Burns.
At that time, only nine states allowed women the same voting rights as men. The NAWSA wanted a Constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote.
The March 1913 parade took place the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Thousands of visitors were in D.C. for the inaugural celebrations, although not all of them supported woman suffrage.
The parade featured 26 floats, nine bands and six golden chariots, according to records from the Library of Congress. Women from the GW Co-Eds marched in the parade wearing academic gowns.
The parade was met with protest from a mob of drunken, rowdy men in town for Wilson’s inauguration. More than 100 participants were taken to the hospital for injuries sustained during the parade. The men harassed the women by tripping and pushing them and yelling “indecent epithets.” City police did little to quiet the situation and stop the crowd, so Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson brought in troops to control the situation.
Despite the disruptions, the parade continued down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Treasury Building, where women and children performed a tableau. The Library of Congress writes that the allegorical tableau ended with “Columbia, surrounded by Justice, Charity, Liberty, Peace and Hope, all in flowing robes and colorful scarves, with trumpets sounding, stood to watch the oncoming procession.”
Paul broke away from the NAWSA in 1917 to establish the National Women’s Party. That year 168 NWP members were arrested for peacefully protesting outside the White House. The women staged a hunger strike in prison and were eventually released.
In 1919, Congress finally addressed the issue of woman suffrage. In May 1919, the House of Representatives voted 304 to 90 in favor of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. The Senate endorsed the amendment with a vote of 56 to 25 in June. Throughout the next year, each state voted on the 19th Amendment. In accordance with the Constitution, 36 states needed to ratify the amendment in order for it to become law.
The amendment became a federal law on August 26, 1920. While no suffragists or press were invited to the signing ceremony, supporters labeled the day Equality Day. The law was passed in time for November’s presidential election between Warren G. Harding (R) and James M. Cox (D).
This article appeared in the October 6, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.