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Suffrage parade, Inez Milholland | Courtesy of Library of Congress
Suffrage parade, Inez Milholland | Courtesy of Library of Congress

The Last Women’s March was 100 Years Ago, and it was Epic

Picture of Summer Whitford
Updated: 20 January 2017

There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it – Alice Paul

About 110 years ago in London, two young American women from well-to-do families were arrested, met at a police station, and found they shared the same passion for women’s rights. Although they were supposed to be studying, Alice and Lucy were learning the finer points of public unrest, political uprisings, and the organizing tactics used by militant British suffragettes.

The day they met, both had been arrested for taking part in an illegal suffrage demonstration outside Parliament, and had witnessed brutally violent attacks on women, beatings, forced feeding and imprisonment. This only made them more determined to get more active in the cause and fight back using aggressive tactics of civil disobedience.

Both women became expert organizers, learning how to run public demonstrations and parades, hold street meetings, heckle candidates during speeches, collect signatures for suffrage petitions, and recruit new volunteers. Armed with skills and a new sense of mission, they returned to the United States, joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and took over leadership of its Congressional Committee.

Their goal was to inform President-elect Woodrow Wilson, Congress, and the Democratic Party, that they were seeking a constitutional amendment to ratify women’s right to vote nationally, not just state by state.

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns knew they needed to do something on a large scale and public, so they chose to hold a national suffrage parade as seen in England. They chose Washington, D.C. as the location, since it was where the issue would eventually be legislated, and the date of March 3, 1913, because it coincided with the presidential inauguration, and would attract lots of people and media attention. They were right. The parade was the largest march for women’s suffrage in America; 8,000 women converged from other countries and almost every state and territory.

At the same time, thousands of people were making the trek to D.C. to attend the inauguration, but they had other ideas about the parade. Although police assured organizers everyone would be safe, thousands of men blocked the women from moving forward, many women were hit, shoved, and tripped, and violent attacks occurred that put hundreds of women in the hospital with virtually no police interference. In the end, the violence made the public more sympathetic to the suffragettes and helped the cause gain some supporters.


alice paul

Alice Paul | Courtesy of Library of Congress


Alice Paul was a Quaker and a fierce fighter for the cause of suffrage. She came from New Jersey where her father was a wealthy banker and stressed the importance of education. Paul attended Swarthmore College, where she earned her first bachelor’s degree in Biology. Later, she went on to earn an M.A. and P.h.D in Sociology, a bachelor’s in Law, and an M.A. and P.h.D. in Law.


Lucy Burns

Lucy Burns, co-organizer of the National Woman Suffrage Parade, member of the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and editor of “The Suffragist” weekly journal | Courtesy of Library of Congress


Lucy Burns had a fiery personality that matched her bright-red hair and quick mind. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and studied at Vassar and Yale universities before studying at Oxford University in England, which is where she became a skilled political speaker and activist for women’s rights. Back in the U.S., she was constantly in trouble with the police, arrested, and imprisoned four times. Her new skills served her well as she used this to publicize the issue of women’s rights to vote.


Inez Milholland Boissevain

Courtesy of Library of Congress


Inez Milholland Boissevain was more than just an organizer for suffrage, she was the beautiful and heroic symbol of the movement. With her long white cape flowing behind her, Inez Milholland led 8,000 women up Pennsylvania Avenue that day followed by more than 20 parade floats, nine bands, three heralds, and four mounted brigades.


official program

Courtesy of Library of Congress


By choosing to host the parade in Washington, with the Capitol and White House for backdrops, the organizers made sure everything, from the date to the program reiterated the importance of the cause and that women were citizens who deserved full rights.

They came from every corner of the country including, Oregon, Utah, Maryland, and Virginia.


suffrage hikers many states

Courtesy of Library of Congress


Lack of support from their families or friends and sometimes very little money forced many women to travel by any means they could. Often, this meant finding rides from marchers with access to cars, going by bus and train, or by walking great distances, as the women in the photograph above did.


Suffrage Parade leader Rosalie Jones

Courtesy of Library of Congress


Rosalie Jones was a wealthy New York socialite and an unlikely candidate for the hardships of hiking from state to state for the cause of suffrage, but she was indomitable. Nicknamed “General Jones,” she and her followers, known as “suffragette pilgrims,” hiked all the way from New York City to Washington, D.C. to participate in the National Woman Suffrage Parade.


handing out flyers

Courtesy of Library of Congress


Alice Paul was a brilliant tactician and knew how to use her volunteers to recruit supporters so, before the parade, women passed out flyers that detailed the fight for women’s suffrage, how to participate, and how to get others to join.


DC hikers arrive

As more women hikers arrive so do the throngs of men, friendly or otherwise, intent on getting a close-up view | Courtesy of Library of Congress

March heads up Pennsylvania Ave with Capitol in background

Courtesy of Library of Congress


At this point, the parade was moving unmolested as it slowly moved from the U.S. Capitol up Pennsylvania toward the Treasury Building, but the parade had just started.


women from around the world

Courtesy of Library of Congress


Eager to show their solidarity and sisterhood, women from around the world traveled to Washington to help organizers raise funds, set up the parade, manage volunteers, and show their country’s participation.


marching band

It wouldn’t be a proper parade without a brass marching band and this parade had nine! | Courtesy of Library of Congress

too many crowds

Courtesy of Library of Congress


By this point in the parade, it was obvious to the organizers and other women in the parade that a lack of police presence made conditions dangerous for everyone, including the throngs on the sidewalks and streets. In places, the crowds converged on the marchers, purposely blocking their route as well as the access of ambulances to the injured. The police never interfered with the crowd or provided protection to the women. After the parade, Congress investigated the police’s lack of involvement and the Chief of Police was fired.

It would take seven more years for women to secure the right to vote through the 19th Amendment, but this first national effort was a catalyst in the gradual achievement of women’s suffrage, and a true testament to the bravery and perseverance of these women.