NAWSA and the Suffragist Parade

The Suffragist Parade – March 3, 1913

"Women remain dependent on other models of 'revolution' for their own. They must catch the taste and techniques of activism like a hit song of the month wafting through the air. So one sees women slumbering and then 'waking up' every 30 years or so; periods of feminism always follow periods of agitation by women on behalf of other, more respectable causes."

The Facts

There would be nothing like this happen if you would stay at home. – New York Evening Journal

The day before the inauguration of the nation’s 28th president the Congressional Committee of NAWSA hosted a large parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  The idea behind this was to maximize onlookers who happened to be in town to attend the inauguration.  Woodrow Wilson expected a crowd at the train station to greet him; however, very few people actually showed up to greet the president, the largest part of the crowd was his staff.  The parade was led by the beautiful lawyer Inez Milholland Bouissevain upon a white horse. This image of her as a warrior atop a horse is what made her an iconic image in the fight for womens' right to vote.  This massive parade consisted of no less than nine bands. It also included four brigades on horseback and close to eight thousand marchers.  The parade was cut into sections: working women, state delegates, male suffragists, and finally African-American women. 

The point of the parade was “to march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.” 

Inez Milholland Bioussevain 

There were two main problems with the parade, first, they had trouble in getting the procession started, the second was the lack of support that the women received from the police when attacked by the crowd.  With 8,000 people to organize in addition to floats, those on horseback, and bands it is no wonder it took some time to organize them in a suitable fashion. Once the parade actually got to a start the crowd of 500,000 people, mostly men, attacked the women and jeered at them shouting phrases such as, “Where are your skirts?” They even threw lit cigars at the unarmed women. The police did not provide assistance in spite of the fact that the marchers obtained the required permit.  Two hundred people were injured and the ambulances had trouble getting to those who needed assistance. The police chief was promptly fired for the lack of assistance provided to a legal march. When assistance could not be provided adequately by the police the cavalry from Ft. Meyers was called in to calm the impending riot. 

Those African-American women who wished to march in the suffragist parade were asked specifically to march in the rear of the parade.  Alice Paul was interested not in obtaining the vote for ALL women but for white women.  By insisting that those of color march at the back she could keep the support of the powerful southern suffragists.  The other thing it helped was in gaining support from legislators who feared the addition of African-American votes in the polls.  One black lady, Ida Wells-Barnett, did obtain a position in the middle of the procession by walking through the crowd and walking in with the Illinois delegation. 

Ida Wells Barnett

Following the parade the suffragists held a pageant which contained the characters Columbia, Justice, Charity, Liberty, Peace and Hope.  Alice Paul had to work tirelessly for many months to obtain the money and marchers to make the parade successful.  They started with $10 in the treasury and raised $14,906.08.

The News
The parade was discussed in The Chicago Times, The Evening Star, The New York Evening Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times.  The newspapers all seemed to have the same take on the situation.  Though they did not seem to support the Suffragists’ movement; however, the obvious negligence of the police was taken into account and the newspaper reported the abuse taken by the women. The New York Times had this to say, "Bitter complaint was heard on every hand to-day because of the lack of protection given to the women marchers by the Metropolitan Police during the suffrage pageant and procession yesterday. Congress had passed a special resolution directing that Pennsylvania Avenue be kept clear for the demonstration."

Iron Jawed Angels
In the movie Iron Jawed Angels the parade was depicted fairly accurately.  The signs held during the parade in the movie were accurate.  The parade scene seems to be based on pictures from the event.  One flaw was the fact that Ida Wells-Barnett marched next to Alice Paul when in fact Alice Paul marched with those who obtained diplomas while Ida Wells-Barnett marched with the Illinois delegation. However, the fact that Alice Paul did not feel that the fight for women's rights included fighting for the right for colored women to vote.  Another problem was the number of marchers portrayed. The march looked semi-small while the real parade was a march of 8,000.  Other than that the movie portrays the parade in an accurate way. Those phrases which were shouted from the crowd during the parade were fairly accurate though I could not find, "What do you have under your skirts?" The closest documented quote is, "Where are your skirts?" In the final scene of the parade a man throws a whiskey bottle.  This is undocumented; however, judging against the other behavior of the crowd it is not impossible that this actually did occur.

It's interesting to note that the parade seems in the movie to be all Alice Paul's idea, however, a women's suffrage parade was already an annual event in New York City.  The parade held in New York was larger and drew more onlookers then the parade in D.C. But in the movie it was portrayed as Alice Paul's idea to hold a march.  

Split from NAWSA

Alice Paul split apart from NAWSA in 1917, forming the National Women’s Party (NWP.)  The split was based on the tactics and main goal of the organizations.  NAWSA, whose president at the time was Carrie Chapman Catt, was focused on women getting an education to help in the fight for women’s suffrage.  The main goal of NAWSA was to achieve the right to vote state-by-state instead of waging war on the federal government.  Alice Paul’s NWP strove to take on the United States government all at once, instead of forcing the issue in state legislators they wished to pass a federal amendment to the Constitution granting women all over the country the right to vote.  They used attention-grabbing techniques such as silently picketing the white house and hosting huge parades.  They also encouraged the support of all women not just those who were well educated, they had nurses, librarians, factory workers and even prostitutes aligned with them to fight for their cause. 

Carrie Chapman Catt - President of NAWSA at the time of the split.

Alice Paul - President of the NWP

There is no mention of the formation of the NWP in the New York Times.  The news networks did not cover this huge event in the fight for women to gain the vote.  Most probably saw this merely as a split of an organization not very likely to affect their everyday lives. 

Iron Jawed Angels
In the movie it seemed as though the parade was the cause of the disgruntlement of NAWSA against Alice Paul and the Congressional Committee. This is simply not the case, NAWSA supported the large gathering whole-heartedly and was well-represented in the march.  The timeline is also skewed in the movie to make it appear that this split occurred mere weeks or months after the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue when in fact it took place over four years after this event.

"Carry out the republican principle of universal suffrage, or strike it from your banners and substitute 'Freedom and Power to one half of society, and Submission and Slavery to the other.'" - Ernestine Rose