Shoulder to Shoulder

Woodrow Wilson expected a large crowd to greet him when he arrived at the train station in Washington DC on the day before his March 4, 1913 inauguration. There wasn’t.

“Where are all the people?” he was said to have asked.

“Watching the suffrage parade,” was the answer.

His supporters were, indeed, watching 5000 suffragists (including Helen Keller) march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC to protest the exclusion of women from the political process in general and denying women the vote in particular. “Watching,” however, was not all they were doing. They were obstructing and harassing the marchers, to the point that the police (sympathetic to the harassers) couldn’t (wouldn’t?) control them and soldiers from nearby Fort Meyer were brought in. The crowd blocked the street, forcing marchers to squeeze by them and injuring several hundred.

I was in DC on Sunday for the 100th anniversary of the 1913 march, when the only hostile element present was Mother Nature, who had decided on a very cold and blustery day. That didn’t stop the marchers who participated in the commemorative parade down Pennsylvania Avenue (I was just there to watch).

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The parade was organized by Delta Sigma Theta, an African-American sorority. They had been founded at Howard University on January 13, 1913 and marching in the 1913 suffrage parade was their first official venture. This despite the fact that the National American Woman Suffrage Organization – the group that organized the 1913 march — advocated for voting rights only for white women, that they were initially asked to march as a group at the back of the parade (they refused and each walked with her state delegation) and suffrage leaders actively discouraged African Americans from participating in public suffrage events because they would alienate the southern vote.  Apparently, the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta don’t bear a grudge, because not only did they organize the centennial parade, but thousands of their members participated.

Also participating were groups representing museum organizations and various other causes.

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After the parade, I went to warm up at the Sewell Belmont House on Capitol Hill, a museum on the history of voting rights and political equality for women in the US. It was the home of Alice Paul, a suffrage leader, and headquarters to her National Women’s Party, which still owns and runs the house and museum. I once lived a couple of blocks away and would pass the house daily. I even considered it as a reception site for my wedding, until I found out that they wouldn’t allow us to serve red wine (barbarians!). I’d never seen the museum exhibits, though, because it had the oddest hours. And now it’s only open by appointment.

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On Sunday — because of the parade centennial — they were having an open house, with extended hours and free admittance. There are five rooms of suffrage exhibits – a lot of political cartoons and banners from the 1913 parade — and Alice Paul’s bedroom left as a bedroom.

My favorite item in the museum was a star sent by Hawaii for the emancipation flag. In 1920, Hawaii was not yet a state (it wouldn’t become one until 1959) but they ratified the 19th amendment on November 2 of that year anyway.  The Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warrior Society then sent a star to be added to the ratification banner.

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If you’re interested in more information about the 1913 suffrage parade, the Library of Congress has an article on-line with links to primary and secondary sources.

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7 Responses to Shoulder to Shoulder

  1. I really wanted to see the parade but had work travel. Glad to read all about it–and about the Sewell Belmont House. I’ve been meaning to visit it for ages.

  2. Also: Hawaii is awesome!

  3. m19flanagan says:

    I can’t believe I missed this! Thanks for sharing this great experience.

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