62. The 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington D.C. (abridged)
This well-known event is considered a turning point in suffrage history. Many times it is portrayed as huge mobs intentionally attacking the women in the parade and police just standing by or encouraging it. Examining primary sources, the record of the senate hearing on the incident, the reports in suffrage journals and regular newspapers about the event, and learning that this parade was not just a parade but a series of civic art protest pieces coming together makes a more accurate picture of why this event has become such a touchstone of suffrage. This SuffragetteCity100 episode will have two versions: an abridged overview of basic points and an unabridged overview with more explanation and links to in-depth articles and resources. This is the abridged version.
The idea of a national constitutional amendment was not new (Episode 33) but it was pretty much a dead issue. Alice Paul (Episode 61) was assigned the undesirable task which also came with no funding or support from National American Women’s Suffrage Association headquarters. Paul created a national spectacle which brought the idea back to life and rebranded the suffrage movement.
The entire event was intentionally planned to compete with the presidential inauguration and in the highest traffic area. It was composed of three components: the main suffrage parade with lots of coordinated costumes, thematic floats, and pageantry, a one-hour theatrical art piece performed on the steps of the U.S. Treasury Building, and the end of the 17 day suffrage hike which started in Manhattan and finished by joining the D.C. suffrage parade.
The D.C. police tried to persuade Paul to pick a different date or parade route that was easier to manage because unusually large and rowdy crowds come for inaugurations. The Pennsylvania Avenue route also went through rougher areas of town, but she and other women went to higher and higher officials to get the permits. According to the Senate investigation, there were 950 officers sent to work the parade both in uniform and in support duties and a cavalry unit was put on standby by the Secretary of War. (The presidential inauguration had 840 officers in total.) Given that no suffrage parade before (or after) had ended in violence, there was no reason to foresee a problem.
There is a lot of confusion about the issue of women of color marching. At best, vague answers were given to direct requests by African-American groups. At worst, the requests were ignored. The question of segregating the parade really wasn’t decided until an hour before the parade began and the final compromise was that the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage would march between the states’ division and African-American women groups. General Rosalie Jones and the suffrage hikers (Episode 61) marched last. Ida B. Wells (Episode 39) famously slipped back into her states’ division with the help of two white friends. Mary Church Terell (Episode 45) is reported to have been both in the college group and the segregated group. However, Native-American lawyer, Louise Bottineau Baldwin (WCW 27) marched with white women lawyers in division three and international women including women of color would have been with the first division.
The parade was spectacular and the play was epic. See the unabridged version for details.
Crowd control became a problem because due to a delay in permits, the streetcar and regular car traffic was only stopped an hour before. The inaugural crowd was already partisan and easily riled. Drinking was common. People ignored barriers and crowded into the parade route. Because the parade routes weren’t able to be kept clear, it created several bottlenecked areas. This seems to be where most reported incidents happened especially pushing, shoving, and tripping. However, spectators joined in to help the women including Boy Scouts, and the Pennsylvania National Guard. The cavalry was called in, the parade was able to move on, and the majority of participants completed the route. Out of a parade of 5,000 participants and a crowd of 500,000 spectators, there are reports of about 100 people being taken to the hospital.
Despite credible reports of verbal abuse, slapping, or spitting in the chaos of the crowds, the next day most newspapers declared the parade an overall success. However, top suffrage leader, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, was extremely outraged at the lack of police protection and Oswald Garrison Villad, editor of the “New York Evening Post”, who had marched in the men’s division demanded a congressional investigation.
The senate investigation lasted from March 6 through March 17 and called over 150 witnesses. (Full 817 page transcript and 16 page summary listed in sources on unabridged version.) It concluded that in retrospect, the police could have done more to keep the parade route clear. There were indeed credible reports of women being harassed both physically and verbally. While some officers may have been derelict in duty, no one was specifically named. Other officers worked to protect the women and clear the route.The investigation concluded that there was no evidence of official police policy to harass the women or leave them unprotected but that it was shameful that women could not hold a peaceful protest down a main street in the nation’s capital without harassment.
The parade still looms large in the history books and current imagination thanks to Alice Paul’s savvy use of both the positive and negative aspects of the event to garner national attention and sympathy for the cause. However in a 1974 interview for “American Heritage” magazine, Alice Paul herself recalls that while there was the usual verbal and sexist harassment, unusual delays, and crowd control issues, she did not recall exceptional violence happening at the parade.
This week’s song pick:
“Like a Phoenix” by Molly Sanden (multiqueen fan compilation) https://youtu.be/sNAMBkCTKxI
See unabridged version on main website for sources