19th at 100: Commemorating the Suffrage Struggle and Its Legacies in Northeast Ohio

The Many Parades of the Suffrage Movement

Even before the famous 1913 procession in Washington D.C., state organizations were already organizing parades and marches around the country. These public events pushed the idea of the woman in the political realm, while also allowing the image of such a woman to be controlled. The large numbers of marches changed the perception of suffrage as a small issue, and normalized women in public. The floats, tableaus, and costumes created an image of suffragists as pure, young, and beautiful. This portrayal countered the stereotype of suffragists as grouchy old maids, while also, unfortunately, upholding sexist views of women. Other tableaus presented suffragists as mothers and caretakers: only after the vote in order to advance the traditional realms of femininity. The parades also brought up feelings of awe and patriotism in spectators, especially with their similarity to the political parades of men that had fallen out of favor. 

The first suffrage parade took place in 1908 in New York, news of it even reaching the Cleveland’s Plain Dealer. It took place without permission from the police, but surprisingly did not attract violence, and many onlookers joined in as it passed, bringing the crowd to nearly 3,000. It was led by Maud Malone and a British suffragist, both wearing the buttons in the yellow of the movement, said to symbolize light, life, and hope. Following them was Lydia K., dressed entirely in purple, symbolizing the dignity and loyalty of the cause. The parade ended at a hall where 800 of the crowd gathered. One speaker argued that women were more intelligent and refined than men, to large applause. This march, a brave act, would go on to influence many more. The use of symbolic colors and the representation of women as exemplary members of society would be amplified in later marches.  

Two notable parades occurred in Cleveland to support the 1912 and 1914 attempted amendments to the Ohio constitution. These parades utilized many tactics of the suffrage movement. In this image from the 1912 parade, four women are arranged on top of a float in a tableau, a motionless performance, of “The Suffragist Arousing her Sisters.” They wear light colored, likely white, dresses, a symbol of purity, and are all younger women, contrasting the stereotype of suffragists as shrewish, immoral, and lonely. An American flag waves in the background, likely stirring up feelings of patriotism in the watching crowd. 

The 1914 march also featured white, as a majority of the 10,000 marchers wore it, creating a field of color. In addition, saffron and stars and stripes banners were hung from businesses along the marching route. The parade was also led by a group of women on horseback, almost certainly recalling images of Joan of Arc. The success of these parades as advertising can also be seen in the more than 200,000 person crowd watching, who did not act violently, even cheering on the marchers. 

Perhaps the most famous suffrage procession was the one held in Washington D.C. in 1913. This parade, the first on a national scale, was held on the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration to attract the most attention. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, still working for the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association at the time, organized it based on suffrage parades in England. Police refused to monitor the event in an attempt to dissuade the suffragists from holding it, a decision the police were called to answer for after the march was halted and marchers were abused by rowdy male crowds.

Everything from the marching order to the lead of the parade was highly organized ahead of time. At the head of the procession was Inez Milholland, who sat upon a white horse in a cape and circlet emblazoned with a golden star. Her costume and posture in pictures brings to mind Saint Joan of Arc, and Milholland was even portrayed in this poster with her hair color changed to blonde to more closely resemble the original image.
The marching order included a lot of symbolism as well, with groups of women in their academic robes, groups in their nursing clothes, groups in their military uniforms, groups representing women in other countries who already had suffrage, and more. 

The procession also showed more problematic image management, with African American women relegated to the back of the procession. This act of racism demonstrated a major problem with the suffrage movement: the inclusion of black women only when convenient. Ida B. Wells, famous journalist and activist, and a few others protested this by walking with their local organizations further forward in the procession, making their own splash in the protest. While halted only a little bit down its planned route, the march brought national attention and sympathy to the suffrage movement. 

This page has paths:

Contents of this path:

This page references: