Centennial of the Suffragists

By Deborah O’Rell Today, March 3rd, is exactly 100 years since Suffragists marched on Washington demanding the right to vote.

Suffrage literally means ‘the right to vote’ and not to suffer in some feminine way as generally believed. Hence, Suffragists were the women, and men, who fought for the right for women to vote.

The early suffragists were dramatic policatical activists staging swimming competitions, scaling mountains, piloting airplanes and staging large-scale parades to gain publicity and emphasize their new physical activism. Rather than remaining on the sidelines, they chose to get as much attention as possible and to scoff at typical stereotypes.

In New York, in 1912, they organized a 12-day, 170-mile “Hike to Albany’. In 1913 the suffragist “Army of the Hudson” marched the 225 miles from Newark to Washington in 16 days, with numerous photo opportunities and press availabilities along the way that gained a national audience. The Woman Voter magazine claimed the hikes generated millions in free publicity.

On March 3, 1913, 5,000 women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote. Their “national procession,” took place the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration to maximize attention. It was the first civil rights parade to use the nation’s capital as a backdrop to underscore the national importance of their cause and women’s identity as American citizens. Up to this point, women had been trying to gain attention and assert their rights, on a state-by-state basis. This tactic had mostly been successful in the West and newer territories.

Thousands of men lined the streets attempting to block the parade’s passage creating near rioting. Many of the women were beaten and jailed.

It was not for another seven years that the 19th amendment was passed guaranteeing women the right to vote.