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 unabridged version.
The entire event was composed of three components: the main suffrage parade with lots of visual art and pageantry, a one hour theatrical 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.
Planning of the parade:
The National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had a Congressional Committee which was responsible for the passage of a national amendment. Because this goal had not made much headway in decades (Susan B. Anthony got as far as an actual vote on a national bill in 1878 Episode 33), it became a secondary goal. Alice Paul (Episode 61) did not come up with the idea of a national amendment, but she revived it and helped remake the image of the movement. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns would be on their own financially and could not ask for any money from HQ. She set to work planning, fundraising, and organizing. She was an excellent fundraiser because the entire cost of the 1913 parade totaled $14,906.08 (which would be around $385,585.00 in 2020 dollars). The stacks of 20-page color programs alone cost $1000 to print and “The Allegory” pageant on the steps of the Treasury Building cost another $1000.
Why this date and application process for the police permits:
The date was deliberately chosen to compete with the inauguration of President Woodrow Willson. Police Commissioner Major Sylvester asked Paul to choose a different date because it would strain the police force to manage both events on the same weekend. If she still wanted that day, police preferred that she use the Sixteenth Street route because it was easier to manage than Pennsylvania Avenue and did not go past some of the rougher areas of town. If the parade were to be held on Pennsylvania Avenue, street car service and car traffic would also have to be stopped, disrupting major transportation routes. Paul insisted on that day and that route.
She knew that this date and symbolic route assured more audience and more press coverage and would force President Wilson to have to address suffrage as a national issue. She and other suffragists went to higher and higher authorities to get the permits.She even asked the Secretary of War for cavalry troops to assist the police. Again, the troops were already allocated for the inauguration and existing military needs but a cavalry troop was put on standby, just in case.
Given that no previous (or future) suffrage parade had any issue of violence or aggressive mobs, there was no reason to believe anything would happen. Even so, the real numbers from the senate report show that 950 members from the D.C. police force were participating in the security of the parade both actively and in supporting roles. Only 840 were scheduled for the inauguration the next day.
The 2nd suffrage hike begins:
Rosalie Jones (Episode 61) was one of 16 women who wore outfits resembling that of medieval religious pilgrims. Jones carried a letter from NAWSA headquarters in Manhattan to be delivered to the president elect in Washington D.C. after the suffrage parade. It was a direct request that he take the suffrage cause seriously and do better for women’s rights than previous administrations. The hike was the second suffrage hike commanded by “General” Jones and “Colonel” Ida Croft. Dressed as a gypsy complete with wagon, Elizabeth Freeman was one of the original 16 hikers; she told fortunes to raise funds and garner crowds along the way. They began on February 12, 1913 and gained more hikers along the way to become an “Army of the Hudson”. The suffrage hike allowed women of color to join them and also had male hikers. In late February, Jones was informed by the Committee of Arrangements that the men would not be allowed to join the actual parade but Jones insisted they were part of her group. They arrived in time to join the parade on March 3.
What to do with African-Americans who want to march:
Alice Paul planned for many details of the parade but not the question on what to do with African-American women. The “Woman’s Journal” published a letter to the editor asking if blacks would be in the parade. Paul sent fellow organizer Hellen Gardner to speak with editor Alice Blackwell Stone personally. Gardner requested that Blackwell “refrain from publishing anything which can possibly start that [negro] topic at this time.” The official stance from the organizers was to say nothing about the subject and focus the press that it was a suffrage parade only and not to complicate it with other social issues.
African-American activists like Mary Church Terell (Episode 45) and Adella Hunt Logan encouraged women of color to participate anyway. Nellie Quander (WCW 62), the founder and president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Howard University wrote directly to Paul several times without hearing a direct answer. The Illinois suffrage delegation including the sole African-American representative, Ida B. Wells (Episode 36), arrived as an integrated group.
Seventy-two hours before the parade, NAWSA sent an official message that segregation was against national policy. However, most women of color did not feel very welcome by many marchers and sometimes had trouble registering.
During the final rehearsal, a decision was made to segregate the parade. Grace Trout, who was white and president of the Chicago Political Equality League, pleaded with organizers not to segregate, but the order was made for black women to march at the back of the parade. While Paul was generally very inclusive of women of color, she was trying to find a compromise. She did not fully understand the deep social harm that segregation would cause to women of color when she stated, “I cannot see… that having this procession without their participation is in any way injuring them in the least.”
In order to keep the southern states in the parade, the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage offered to march between the state delegations and the African-American women. It wasn’t a perfect solution but everyone finally agreed to stay in the parade. In the chaos of the last minute segregation confusion, Ida B. Wells slipped away from the group behind the men’s league and rejoined the Illinois state delegation group in front of the men’s division. Flanked by her two white suffrage allies, Virginia Minor (Supreme court case: Minor vs. Happersett) and Viola “Belle” Squire (co-founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club), Ida B. Wells proudly marched in the parade.
“General” Rosalie Jones had no reservation in allowing women of color to join the suffrage hike and be part of her delegation in the parade. Throughout the suffrage movement, some suffragists supported women of color and some did not. There is no clear record of how many African-American women participated in the parade, but they were there as an important part of American history just as they always have been.
The actual parade:
It is estimated that over 5,000 participants were in the parade and over 500,000 onlookers. It was reported to be absolutely spectacular in organization and execution. The Grand Marshal was Mrs. Richard Coke Burleson and Inez Milholland, who was dressed as a medieval herald, led the way. Next came some female calvary out-riders and a wagon with the banner “We Demand an Amendment to the United States Constitution Enfranchising the Women of the Country.” The officers of NAWSA were next, including Dr. Anna Howard Shaw in her cap and gown. That was the prelude.
The first section of the parade was themed “Women of the World Unite” and featured representatives of 20 nations including Mr. and Mrs. Ching Wu of China who rode on a float with their 9 month old baby girl, Mei Scheng P. Wu.
The second section focused on the fight for women’s suffrage with two floats illustrating past and present: the first had a tableau vivant (live painting) of humble women and ashamed men representing the “patriarchy” in 1840 and the second featured “women of today” (1913) in cap and gowns with no men. A troop of women cavalry were also in this section.
The third section focused on women in work at home, in education, in patriotic service, and as part of the workforce. College women wearing caps and gowns marched in this division. There was also a float depicting the interior of a sweatshop to illustrate the need for workers’ rights. Marchers in this section carried a banner that stated “We Want to Protect Our Children.” Next came writers in white, then artists in pink, then musicians in red. Doctors, lawyers and actresses including those at the top of their profession also marched in this section. Native American lawyer, Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin (WCW 27) marched with the white female lawyers.
The fourth section had women in the government and civil service jobs.
The fifth section had no uniform and was open to women who didn’t fit other categories.
The sixth section had the state delegations. Many delegates held shields bearing the name of their state. This is also where seventy representatives of the National Men’s League for Woman Suffrage marched. The African-American women’s delegation marched here behind the men’s league. Mary Church Terell might have led the group. Although she may have also been with the college women in the third section.
Finally it was none other than “General” Rosalie Jones and her “Army of the Hudson” suffrage hikers bringing up the rear. Jones was such a beloved favorite that Major J. M. Shindel, Judge Advocate of the Fourth Brigade, Pennsylvania National Guard of Lebanon, PA, broke through the crowd to throw flowers at her feet and many in the crowd were continually pushing to get a glimpse of her. Her honor guard consisted of young men from the Maryland Agricultural College who protected the hikers during the turmoil.
While the parade was going on, an allegory play was taking place on the steps of the U.S. Treasury Building. The final scene would happen just as the parade reached that area. Due to delays, it didn’t happen as planned and so after waiting around for a while, they did an entire encore presentation so that it would come together with the parade. The play was written and directed by Hazel MacKay. It opened with the “Star Spangled Banner”, then Columbia came out and summoned her attendants. Justice enters to the tune of “Pilgrims Chorus” by Wagner. As Charity descended the steps, two children strew rose petals as “Largo” by Handel played. Verdi’s “Triumphal March” accompanied Liberty’s entrance. The prelude to “Lohengrin” sounded as Peace and Plenty arrived. Hope gently appeared with the song “Elsa’s Dream” (also from “Lohengrin”), then the music lightens to “Humoresque” by Dvorak and it turns into a joyful scene as dancers in a rainbow of color descend the stairs. With everyone assembled, “Spring Song” by Mendelssohn plays. The final tableau ends with an instrumental version of “America the Beautiful” as the entire company stands in attendance as the main parade goes by.
Crowd control problems:
Whenever there are large public events, it only takes a few people to cause problems and those small problems to very quickly escalate into a whole lot of big problems. Traffic control was less than ideal as personal passenger cars disregarded the clearly marked parade route, the street cars were only stopped an hour before the start because of a delay in orders, and then spectators started stepping around designated barriers. All of these factors started masses of people and unauthorized vehicles blocking the parade route. It becomes a traffic jam of cars and humanity, then emotions run high and things get ugly. It was less about an organized attack on suffragists and more about issues that are common in every event that has too many things going wrong at the same time--confusion, anger, and conflict. This does not minimize what happened but it explains why it did. The standby cavalry troop was called in but by the time they got there, crowds were already forcing the marchers down to single file or two at a time which would be extremely distressing causing a gauntlet-like situation and could lead to shoving, pushing, and tripping,and being burnt by a cigar by the very act of trying to get through a big rowdy crowd. There were definite reports of some spectators being very drunk including an inebriated man trying to climb on a float. Boy Scouts and groups of men such as members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who were just there as spectators had already jumped in to protect women and force the crowd back. There are credible reports that police officers went out of their way to help the parade.There were also credible accusations that some police officers were neglectful in controlling the crowd and their indifference encouraged mob-mentality harassment of the women but no individual officer was actually identified as having done so. One police officer reportedly verbally insulted Mrs. Geneva Stone (wife of a congressman from Illinois) by shouting, “If my wife were where you are I’d break her head.”
In summary, some people did get injured and more than a few made insults, sexist comments, and menaced the women especially given that it was a politically divided crowd that came for the inauguration and drinking was pretty common. There was definitely a bottleneck area that caused the most trauma and a lot of confusion. However, the majority of the women finished the parade and the event continued as scheduled. It took nearly six hours for the parade to get to the allegory play at the Treasury Building. Many women were very upset and physically exhausted by the whole ordeal but the parade was more delayed than ruined.
Reviews of event by newspapers: (Links to all these articles are in sources)
Journalist Nellie Bly, who had participated in the march, supposedly penned an article entitled “Suffragists are Men’s Superiors” about the parade. (Although referenced by this title from many contemporary sources writing about the 1913 parade, I personally could not locate any historic article by this name--it could easily exist, I just didn’t find it. I did find her article for the “New York Evening Journal” March 3, 1913. She doesn’t mention any violence but it is likely the story was submitted just before the parade to get to be published in time for the evening paper.)
Dr. Lewis of the Emergency Hospital in Washington D.C. told the “New York Times” (March 4th) that there were about 100 people taken to the hospital, no woman was seriously injured, most had exhaustion or had fainted but the 12 patients with broken bones had all been men. Dr Lewis said this was typical of any large crowded event in the city and was not more than usual. This same article contains direct quotes from women who accused police of standing by idly while men spat upon their suffrage banners and that some women were pinched black and blue in front of police officers.
“The Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News” from March 8, 1913 contained the reports of women being spit upon, slapped in the face, jeered at and pelted with lit cigar butts while police stood by and did nothing. However the article lacks specifics of who got hit or burnt. This same article also declares the parade an overall success.
The Nathan sisters (WCW 43) battled it out in pro and anti op-eds.
Senate congressional investigation:
Dr. Anna Howard Shaw was outraged at the parade mismanagement. Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the “New York Evening Post”, marched in the men’s division and demanded that there be a congressional investigation. The investigation and hearing lasted from March 6 through March 17. It called over 150 witnesses and concluded that in retrospect the police could have done a better job at keeping the parade route clear and protecting the women but also that there was no official policy to harass the women or leave them unprotected. It also concluded that it was shameful that women could not have a peaceful protest in the nation’s capital without being subjected to insults and injury.
Alice Paul was savvy and used both positive and negative aspects of the event to fundraise and sway public sympathy towards suffrage. Many current articles emphasise the violence towards the women, however in a 1974 interview for “American Heritage” magazine she explained that it was not an attack mob. She was asked if the cavalry had been necessary that day to help the women, “ Yes, but not because the crowd was hostile.There were just so many people that they poured into the street, and we were not able to walk very far. So we called Secretary Stimson, and he sent over the troops, and they cleared the way for us. I think it took us six hours to go from the Capitol to Constitution Hall. Of course, we did hear a lot of shouted insults, which we always expected. You know, the usual things about why aren’t you home in the kitchen where you belong. But it wasn’t anything violent.” (Full interview listed in sources.)
Regardless of what actually occurred, the March 3 suffrage procession is one of the most remembered events of the suffrage movement and is a touchstone of women’s rights.
This week’s song pick:
“Like a Phoenix” by Molly Sanden (multiqueen fan compilation) https://youtu.be/sNAMBkCTKxI
Bonus soundtrack for “The Allegory”
Official Parade Program (20 pages including advertisements)
Senate Trial Documents
16 page senate report summary of the hearings
Full 817 page record of hearings including direct testimony of over 150 witnesses available online courtesy of the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. The Smithsonian’s copy is not on public display.
“New York Times” article March 4, 1913 put online by Virginia Commonwealth University making it available to anyone without needing a subscription to newspaper archives
1974 interview with Alice Paul herself. She talks about how she got into the suffrage movement, what it was like to be arrested, force-fed, and more. She talks about the parade on page 5 and does not remember great issues of violence.
An article by Nellie Bly about the Parade. “New York Evening Post” March 3, 1913 but it does not contain the phrase or headline “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors”. Her journalistic style is not what I expected. Enlarge the page, and it becomes very easy to read.
“Evening Star” Washington D.C. newspaper March 3,1913 declaring suffrage parade a success
“Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News” March 8, 1913. It contains reports of violence.
https://newseumed.org/tools/artifact/newspaper-coverage-dc-suffrage-parade-march-1913 (Also at the Library of Congress but this is easier to read online)
General overview of the parade
Specifics on African-American participants
Suffrage hikers (80 second film clip)
This is a very in-depth piece (27 pages) with great photos of “The Allegory” pageant. (Create a free jstor account to read it.)
More photos of the suffrage parade
The following sources require a digital subscription to the “New York Times” or Newspapers.com. It’s worth reading the original sources and subscriptions can be cancelled after articles are read.
Parade preparation articles that illustrate how large this event was:
“New York Times” articles on aftermath of parade including accounts of assault on women
Prominent Anti-suffragists, Helen Kendrick Johnson (Episode 47) and Annie Nathan Meyer (WCW 43), wrote letters to the editor in the “New York Times” stating that the suffragists got what they deserved including that it was unfair to force the police to manage two back to back parades and rebuttal by Annie’s pro-suffrage sister Maud Nathan (WCW 43).
Rebuttal by Meyer’s sister Maud Nathan: