Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913

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Official program Woman Suffrage Procession Washington D.C. March 3, 1913
March 8, 1913 front page of Woman's Journal

The Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 was the first suffragist parade in Washington, D.C.. Organized by the suffragist Alice Paul for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, thousands of suffragists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1913. The march was scheduled on the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration to "march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded", as the official program stated.

The march and the attention it attracted were important in advancing women's suffrage in the United States.[1]

The Beginning[edit]

American suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns spearheaded a drive to adopt a national strategy for women's suffrage in the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Both women had been influenced by the militant tactics used by the British suffrage movement and recognized that the women from the six states that had full suffrage at the time comprised a powerful voting bloc. They submitted a proposal to Anna Howard Shaw and the NAWSA leadership at their annual convention in 1912. The leadership was not interested in changing their state-by-state strategy and rejected the idea of holding a campaign that would hold the Democratic Party responsible. Paul and Burns appealed to prominent reformer Jane Addams, who interceded on their behalf.[2]

The women persuaded NAWSA to endorse an immense suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. that was to coincide with newly elected President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration the following March. Paul and Burns were appointed chair and vice-chair of NAWSA's Congressional Committee.[3] They recruited Crystal Eastman, Mary Ritter Beard, and Dora Kelley Lewis to the Committee and organized volunteers, plan, and raise funds for the parade with little help from the NAWSA.[4] Affiliates of NAWSA from various states organized contingents to march and activities leading up to the march, such as suffrage hikes.[5]

The parade itself was led by labor lawyer Inez Milholland, dressed dramatically in white and mounted on a white horse,[6] and included ten bands, five mounted brigades, 26 floats, and around 8000 marchers,[7] including many notables such as Helen Keller, who was scheduled to speak at Constitution Hall after the march. After a good beginning, the marchers encountered crowds, mostly male, on the street that should have been cleared for the parade. They were jeered and harassed while attempting to squeeze by the scoffing crowds, and the police were sometimes of little help, or even participated in the harassment. The Massachusetts and Pennsylvania national guards stepped in. Eventually, boys from the Maryland Agricultural College created a human barrier protecting the women from the angry crowd.[8] Over 200 people were treated for injuries at local hospitals.[9] Despite all this, most of the marchers finished the parade and viewed an allegorical tableau presented near the Treasury Building.[1]


African-American women were asked to march separately at the end of the march, because white suffragists were concerned about losing the support of southern voters. There were delegations from the National Association of Colored Women and also from Howard University. Elsie Hill, the suffragist who recruited the Howard University group originally planned for them to march alongside other college groups; after news of this created controversy, Paul placed a "buffer" of Quaker men around them to prevent protest from Southern suffragists.[10] Despite all this, Ida B. Wells, founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, joined the Illinois delegation in the middle of the march.[11][12]

Suffrage march line How thousands of women parade today at Capitol 1913.jpg


Votes for Women Parade flowers, Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

The mistreatment of the marchers by the crowd and the police caused a great furor. Alice Paul shaped the public response after the parade, portraying the incident as symbolic of systemic government mistreatment of women, stemming from their lack of a voice and political influence through the vote. The incident showed that the government's role in women's lives had broken down, and that it was incapable of even providing women with physical safety.

Journalist Nellie Bly, who had participated in the march, headlined her article "Suffragists are Men's Superiors". Senate hearings, held by a subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, started on March 6, only three days after the march, and lasted until March 17, with the result that the District's superintendent of police was replaced.[13] NAWSA praised the parade and Paul's work on it, saying "the whole movement in the country has been wonderfully furthered by the series of important events which have taken place in Washington, beginning with the great parade the day before the inauguration of the president".[1]

Popular culture[edit]

The parade played a significant role in the 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels, which chronicled the strategies of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and the National Woman's Party as they lobbied and protested for the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would assure women's voting rights.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Harvey, Sheridan. "Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913". American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States. Library of Congress. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  2. ^ Lunardini 1986, pp. 20–21
  3. ^ Lunardini 1986, pp. 21–22
  4. ^ Lunardini 1986, pp. 23–24
  5. ^ Template:Cite booklist=Baer first=Ellen D.
  6. ^ Adams, Katherine (2008). Alice Paul and the American Woman Suffrage Campaign. Chicago: University of Illinois. p. 104. 
  7. ^ Estimates for the number of marchers varied, with the Congressional Committee claiming 10,000. Most accounts quoted the 8000 figure; see The New York Times, March 3, 1913 and Lunardini 1986, p. 28
  8. ^ Flexner, Eleanor (1956). Century of Struggle. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 
  9. ^ The Washington Post, March 5, 1913; The New York Times, March 4–5, 1913
  10. ^ Adams, Katherine (2008). Alice Paul and the American Woman Suffrage Campaign. Chicago: University of Illinois. pp. 109–110. 
  11. ^ a b http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/rightsforwomen/AfricanAmericanwomen.html
  12. ^ http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4945
  13. ^ Suffrage Parade: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, Government Printing Office, 1913


  • Lunardini, Christine A. (1986). From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1910-1928. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-5022-2. 

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