February 21, 2013

Marching for Women's Rights

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Radical suffragist Alice Paul led the effort to organize the parade. This illustration served as the cover for the parade's official program. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

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These cartoons poked fun at suffragists marching to Washington for the parade. The fight for women's suffrage was rarely taken seriously by the mainstream press. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

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The parade began peacefully, but soon turned violent as hostile crowds blocked the marchers, jeering and sometimes assaulting them. Police looked on or joined in the abuse, as reported in The Salem Evening News. (Newseum collection)

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Headlines about mistreatment of the marchers, seen in this edition of Washington's Evening Star, brought attention and sympathy to the suffrage movement. Congress investigated the abuse, and Washington's police superintendent resigned. (Newseum collection)

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The Woman's Journal and Suffrage News derided the police force's behavior in this editorial cartoon, which appeared above a report on the Senate's investigation of the parade disruptions. (Newseum collection)

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The parade marked an important step forward in the struggle for women's rights. "Equal suffrage has scored a great victory," reported the Woman's Journal and Suffrage News. (Newseum collection)

Celebrate Women's History Month at the Newseum

See our free exhibit "Marching for Women's Rights" March 1-14 outside the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Newsmaking Women
Follow the trail of newsmaking women found throughout the Newseum with this handy guide.

Download Guide (PDF)

On March 3, 1913, the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's first inauguration, 5,000 suffragists — with the striking visual of lawyer Inez Milholland leading the parade on a white horse — marched down Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote.

Faced with lagging enthusiasm for women's suffrage, the female marchers — nurses, farmers, doctors, actors, and academics — put on an impressive pageant that featured music and performers, including a woman dressed as Columbia, the feminine representation of the United States. Activist Alice Paul had spearheaded efforts to raise money and organize the parade, which upstaged Wilson's arrival for his inauguration.

But the suffragists' cause was not well received by the unruly and mostly male spectators who had crowded into the nation's capital for the inauguration. They assaulted the marchers, impeding the peaceful procession from the U.S. Capitol to the Treasury building, while the police watched and rarely intervened. Many of the women suffered injuries and had to be hospitalized.

Despite the vehement opposition, the suffragists — through the attention-grabbing visuals and sympathetic media coverage of the violence — succeeded in making their message heard.

While the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote wasn't ratified until 1920, the suffrage parade paved the way for renewed attention to the historic and democratic importance of women's rights.

The dramatic, behind-the-scenes story of the suffrage parade will be told in "Marching For Women's Rights," a free outdoor exhibit of historic newspaper front pages and graphics located in front of the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. The exhibit will appear in the front-page cases March 1-14, 2013. Inside the building, a special guide exploring the stories of "Newsmaking Women" throughout the Newseum, will be available during March, Women's History Month.

This exhibit was made possible through generous sponsorship support from
the American Association of University Women.

American Association of University Women

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