Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Day Before the Inauguration: 1913

Before the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933, establishing January 20 as the beginning of the President's and the Vice President's terms of office, Inauguration Day took place on March 4. Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in March 4, 1913. On the day before Wilson's inauguration, suffragists from across the country staged the biggest and certainly most elaborately designed demonstration Washington had ever seen. The New York Times described it in this way: 
WASHINGTON, March 3--In a woman's suffrage demonstration to-day the capital saw the greatest parade of women in its history. In the allegory presented on the Treasury steps it saw a wonderful series of dramatic pictures. In the parade over 5,000 women passed down Pennsylvania Avenue. Some were riding, more were afoot. Floats throughout the procession illustrated the progress the woman's suffrage cause had made in the last seventy-five years. Scattered throughout the parade were the standards of nearly every State in the Union. It was an astonishing demonstration.
The historic images reproduced below provide a sense of the visual spectacle, but readers are encouraged to read the entire New York Times account, which includes wonderful descriptions of the costumes worn by women in the parade such as this: "Miss [Inez] Milholland [of New York] was an imposing figure in a white broadcloth Cossack suit and long white-kid boots. From her shoulders hung a pale-blue cloak, adorned with a golden maltese cross. She was mounted on Gray Dawn, a white horse belonging to A. D. Addison of this city. Miss Milholland was by far the most picturesque figure in the parade."

It was estimated that 500,000 people gathered to watch the parade. Many them, including the police charged with protecting the marchers, were unsympathetic to the cause of woman suffrage. Not only did the police fail to restrain the rowdy crowd, some of them joined in the jeering. Mrs. Genevieve Stone, the wife of a congressman from Illinois, reported that a policeman had shouted to her, "If my wife were where you are I'd break her head." 

Testifying the following week before a Senate Investigating Committee convened at the request of the suffragists, Major Richard Sylvester, the Chief of Police in Washington, "produced the orders he had given for the protection of the marchers and the clearing of Pennsylvania Avenue, and disavowed personal responsibility for the failure of any of his men to carry out those orders. He shifted the blame and responsibility to the officers and policemen on duty on Monday who failed to protect the procession." The New York Times reported that Sylvester had tried to dissuade the suffragists by warning them that "the riff-raff of the South would be here for inauguration on account of the Democratic victory." 

Of course, there were those who blamed the women themselves, as did Everett P. Wheeler in a letter to the editor published in the New York News on March 9, 1913. After calling the suffragists "odious," Wheeler, who was not himself in Washington for the parade, goes on to assess the event:
What, then, did we have in Washington? A parade of women, some of them decently clad, but some of them, if we may believe the accounts, clad in a way in which no good father or mother would wish his daughter to appear in public, exposing themselves to the gaze of the crowd which filled the streets of Washington, and which was nearly as numerous as the population of that city. In those circumstances it was physically impossible for ten times the police of Washington to keep the crowd in order. Men, with self-restraint in such circumstances would, of course, abstain from violence and keep away. The spectacle to them was disgusting in the main. But all the more the crowd, who had not self-restraint, would go and express their disapproval in the way they did.
All of which shows what we have been telling the suffragists for years, that their attempt to bring women into political warfare with men would break down the protecting barriers which courtesy and chivalry have thrown around women. If women fight men, men will certainly come to fight back, and whether they like it or not, the suffragists will find that men despise them if, under the pressure of the fight, they whimper and complain.


  1. In the 1912 presidential campaign, Woodrow Wilson disagreed with candidate Theodore Roosevelt on the issue of women's suffrage.

    As a Progressive in 1912, and previously as a Republican, Roosevelt was strongly in favor of establishing a woman's right to vote. As an undergraduate at Harvard in the late 1870s, he'd written a paper arguing for women's suffrage which raised many eyebrows among faculty and classmates.

    In contrast, Wilson was always lukewarm to the notion at best, and only relented to the idea in his second term after continuing protests throughout his first.

    (As an echo of this same Democratic brand during his first term, Wilson called for segregation in federal offices; whereas Roosevelt was the first president to invite a black man to dine at the White House a dozen years earlier, Booker T. Washington.)

    In 1917, jailed suffragists in Washington were force-fed by their captors after the prisoners launched a hunger-strike. The ignoble, abstract Wilson, worried about negative publicity for his administration, finally agreed to a suffrage amendment in January 1918.

  2. This is an excellent summary of the 1913 parade, with some details I have not seen elsewhere. For the Centennial parade last month, with the march of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority (not mentioned here), see my Huffington Post report or go to this longer report -
    Woodrow Wilson always said in speaking to women's groups that he was not opposed to women voting on principle. He was concerned about a backlash among Democrats in the south, where whites voted Democratic because a Republican (Lincoln) had freed the slaves and Republicans gave the vote to black men. The black vote was the GOP's to lose, which it did. Not until 1924 were blacks allowed to attend Democratic conventions. Not until FDR in 1932 did blacks break to the Democrats and in 1936 FDR got 71 percent of the black vote. Since the Voting Rights Acts of 1963, blacks have overwhelmingly voted Democratic. See