|The Centennial stamp of the 1848 Convention honors |
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. With them, Carrie
Catt, who of them alone saw victory in 1920.
The movement for woman suffrage started when officials of the 1840 world-wide Temperance Convention in London told two women to shut up and stay out of sight. The two women were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.
Mott came up to the Rochester area to speak at many of the regional Quaker meeting-houses in an area so evangelical it was called the "burned-over" district. She and Stanton were still hopping mad about being treated as chattels at the London meeting. They met and Stanton organized a tea party on the occasion of Mott's visit. The tea party became a mini-powwow, and the group decided to hold a bigger meeting. The subject would be women's rights, and Stanton agreed to present a "Declaration of Sentiments". They called the event a Convention on the Rights of Women. They booked a church at Seneca Falls and they posted notices.
Guess what? Well-known former slave Frederick Douglass gate-crashed the event on the first day, when men were excluded. He decided if the meeting was about exclusion, well, he had something to say to them that would be useful. As a slave and a former slave, he could tell the white ladies, many of them his friends, a thing or two about being denied rights.
Douglass's presence turned out to be important for the future of the campaign for Votes for Women. At a crucial point in the proceedings, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott came to a fork in the road and they were heading down different tynes.
Should the convention go so far as to include the breath-taking demand that women had the right to vote?
|Stanton demands the right to vote. Seneca Falls, 1848.|
- Elizabeth Stanton said yes, although her husband said no.
- Mott said no. If Stanton were to place a demand for the vote on the convention agenda, "Thee will make us ridiculous," she said to Mrs. Stanton.
But then Douglass stepped up to the church lectern, not at all intimidated by being an intruder on the first day.
Douglass said it was crucial that women demand the right to vote because no other rights will be worth much without that. That's why, he said, black men put their demand for the right to vote highest on their list of goals.
Douglass carried the day. He made a lot of sense, and he spoke from deep conviction. (In my play about Seneca Falls – performed in 1998 on the 150th anniversary – Rochester's Mayor Johnson played the part of Douglass and a very good speech he made. The text of the play is here.)
In 1866, the year after Lee surrendered to the Union, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony created the American Equal Rights Association to promote universal suffrage. Expanding the vote was in the cards, and they wanted women included.
Lucy Stone and most other woman suffrage activists went along with Douglass's idea. But Stanton, Anthony and others fought back against Douglass. They opposed any expansion of the franchise if women were not in it. So in May 1869 they worked secretly with Julia Ward Howe to create the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), opposing the proposed amendment giving the vote to black men. In the end, they lost the battle, as this Amendment was ratified in February 1870.
However, in a real sense their point of view prevailed in the southern states, which emasculated the power of black men's right to vote through the Jim Crow laws, with widespread voting restrictions such as a poll tax, or a literacy test, or a complex registration process, voting barriers that continued openly until the Voting Rights Act of 1963 and continue covertly even in 2013.
NWSA's opposition to the votes for black men angered not only black leaders like Douglass but the many abolitionists who saw the Civil War as primarily a battle against slavery and believed the victory of the North had to mean the imposition of votes for black men on the south. NWSA did not help its case by turning, in desperation, to the support of a man who would today be described as a white supremacist. Susan B. Anthony supported the idea of some southern women that Votes for Women could be traded for literacy tests. The tests might reduce the number of black voters, but by adding educated white women the electoral outcome might be improved.
In February 1890 the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its first combined convention in Washington, D.C. Anthony campaigned for Stanton to be president; Stanton named Anthony as her vice president. Then, after her election and apparently by pre-arrangement, Stanton sailed for a two-year tour of England, leaving Anthony in charge.
Lucy Stone's supporters viewed the merger as a betrayal, and the resentment simmered for six years. When Stanton turned to de-genderizing the Woman's Bible, she expected the book to be promoted by NAWSA when it was finished in 1896. Instead, Rachel Foster Avery led a (narrow) majority of NAWSA members in voting to exclude Stanton’s Bible from its scope of interest. Stanton died six years later. Susan B. Anthony soldiered for another four years after that, dying in 1906.
Inez Milholland, newly graduated from NYU Law School (where there is now an Inez Milholland professorship in her honor), had became a celebrity in New York City, riding her horse at the head of the huge Fifth Avenue parade in 1912. Years later, Mayor LaGuardia wrote to Milholland's mother, saying that Inez had converted him to Votes for Women at this parade.
|The March 3, 1913 Suffragist Parade. It was a Monday, the day before President Wilson's first inauguration. Source: Reddit.|
During the weeks before the parade, the participation of black women in general was a thorny issue for Alice Paul. Later in life, she described this issue as her primary preoccupation during the days leading up to the parade.
In particular, a new breakaway sorority at Howard University, Delta Sigma Theta, wanted to participate. The leadership of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Howard University had decided to resign en masse from what they viewed as the social pretensions of the Alphas and form a new sorority that would be less social and more activist in social causes.
|On March 2, 2013, a National Park Service Ranger J. L.|
Dinkelater tells the story of the picketing of the White
House in 1917. Photo © by JT Marlin.
When Alice Paul was put in charge of the "Congressional Committee" of NAWSA in 1912, she needed to move fast to get up to speed. Compared with the Pankhurst operation, she found the Committee was a shell. She began recruiting new people and raising money, much of it in New York City where NAWSA was based. While New Yorkers might not care whether black women were in the parade, a southern city like Washington was a different matter. Alice Paul saw a conflict between maximizing the Committee's support and allowing black women to march.
|Jane Barker, then chair of the Turning Point Suffragist |
Memorial Committee, in 2011, in front of the newly
restored iconic painting of Inez Milholland at the Sewall-
Belmont House. Photo © by JT Marlin.
Alice Paul was deeply torn, as she later recalls, and only grudgingly agreed to allow the Howard sorors to join the parade. Her plan, which appears not to have been shared with Inez Milholland, was to minimize the danger to the parade by putting all the black women at the end of the parade, after the (white) Men's League for Woman Suffrage marched.
- Black men were supposedly enfranchised, even though the Jim Crow laws disenfranchised them as well as some less educated or poor whites.
- White women might not vote, but their spouses or male relatives did.
|Inez Milholland at the front of the 1913 Washington |
parade. The horse, Gray Dawn, was on loan from a
Mr. Addison of Washington, D.C.
If [Paul] and other white suffragist leaders could get the Anthony Amendment through without enfranchising African American women, they would do so.Linda Lumsden's biography of Inez Milholland makes clear that however much Milholland may have gone along with excluding blacks in other contexts, she was firm about the participation of the Deltas. Milholland was, like her father, a member of the NAACP. Citing Mary Church Terrell again, Lumsden says that Milholland insisted that the Howard contingent be allowed to march in the college section. Emmett Scott, secretary-treasurer of Howard University, said that Milholland
was unwilling to participate in a parade symbolizing a movement which was not big enough or broad enough to live up to the principles for which it was contending. (See Inez, p. 91.)On the day of the parade, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a former slave who had become a leading suffragist, defied Alice Paul's ruling that black women march at the end of the parade, and she slipped into the march with her Chicago NAWSA delegation. Others followed suit. In the end, 22 women marched in the Delta contingent and an unknown number of black NAWSA delegates (100?) marched with their geographical groups. The only black organization to march as a group in the parade was the Howard delegation of Deltas. Even if, as is unlikely, as many as 150 black women in total were in the march, then using the NY Times estimate for the number of marchers, these women were at most 3 percent of the total.
The marchers were protected by the First Amendment, but not by the DC police. The DC police chief, Major Richard Sylvester, in a Senate investigation into the failure of the police to keep order, argued that he had warned against the parade because racist "riff-raff" from the south would be in town to celebrate a Democrat's election as President. He was relieved of his job.
In the 2013 March, the Racial Balance Was Reversed
The March 3, 2013 march, which I attended, was totally different from 1913. The once-tiny sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, was the main organizer of the event, having grown into an army of 300,000 black women world-wide.
|The Deltas listen to the leadership on "public|
service" and "social activism." Photo © by JT Marlin.
If 1,000 of the marchers were white men and women (my generous estimate), then the racial percentages were exactly reversed. In 1913, at most 5 percent of the marchers were black. In 2013, at most 5 percent were white.
Another major difference is in the nature of the participation of the Deltas and the other women's groups in 2013. The white women's groups were naturally eager to commemorate and re-enact the actions of the suffragists to obtain the vote. The original marchers were dressed in suffragist attire (purple, gold and white sashes and dresses), and so were the leaders of the traditional women's groups on March 3, 2013.
|Here we are, waiting to join the parade. I am at the |
window; Model T owner Ron Frenette
is driving. iPhone photo.
For the Deltas, the parade was much less about the history of Votes for Women than it was about moving on and tackling remaining injustices in the lives of American blacks and women. They marched with a purpose, dressed not in historical suffrage colors but in their sorority colors of red and white. The speeches in front of the Capitol (see photo above) were about moving on to new challenges, using their vote to attack continuing abuse of women in the home or in the workplace.
Here we are -– Ron Frenette (driver) and I, ready to go,
with a sign in the window saying "VOTES FOR
WOMEN – Men's League". iPhoto.
Far from there being any rioting, it was an eerily quiet Sunday morning. The Deltas didn't rustle up any marching bands. Since Washington, DC workers now mostly live in suburban Maryland and Virginia, and churchgoers were in church, there were few onlookers, maybe 5,000 at most. Protest marches in Washington are now a regular occurrence. The Deltas were in D.C. in January and will be back next month.
The Reversal of Gender Balance
Back in 1913 there was a "Men's League for Woman Suffrage" with its own organization and officers. The Wikipedia entry dismisses it as being founded by "left-wing writers". Yes, Max Eastman was one of the founders, but chapters were formed in states around the country that had few left-wing writers. The active membership included Inez's father John E. Milholland, a newspaperman turned businessman who had editorialized on Votes for Women in the New York Tribune. The "men's groups for woman suffrage" had their own place in the lineup of the 1913 Washington parade.
|End of the line. Black police officer reporting to a female|
police chief, tells us: 1. You need a permit for a car in the
parade. 2. No permits are given. iPhoto © by JT Marlin.
In 2013 there were a few spouses and male friends among the traditional suffragist groups, but I don't remember seeing a single male in the parade of the Deltas. The spectators were few, far between and unengaged. The single largest group of men were the Washington, DC police force, who were out in much larger numbers than in 2013.
Turned Back, 2013
Back in 1913, many motor vehicles were in the parade, plus at least one horse (Gray Dawn) that Inez borrowed from a DC resident, Mr. Addison. The DC police in 1913 made little effort to control the unruly male crowds.
It was fitting, as a measure of the extent to which the world has changed since 1913, that the sole male contingent of two was not allowed to participate in the 2013 parade. Our participation was organized by one of the traditional women's groups, which paired me (as great-nephew and super-fan of the "woman on the horse", Inez Milholland) with the owner of the Model T.
We did our best to persuade the black police officer that we should be allowed in the parade, but he said there were no floats, no cars of any kind in the parade this year. Who knew? We could appeal to the police chief in Washington, but presumably she, Cathy Lanier, is on top of this situation and would have nothing to add.
No Alpha Males Here; Maybe Some Deltas
You can say about me and my companion du jour Mr. Ron Frenette – who bore most of the burden of the day since he had to take the Model T out of mothballs – that we didn't qualify that day as Alpha Males.
But maybe we qualify as something more important, men who celebrate a change in the direction of greater equality and opportunity, even if the beneficiaries are a different gender, sexual preference, religion or race. (Even if the beneficiaries don't want or even discourage, for whatever reason, our gesture of support.)
I was brought up by an Alpha Grandmother and an Alpha Mother, and I have four Alpha Sisters. I'm married to an Alpha Wife and we have an Alpha Daughter.
The Deltas by their charter probably exclude non-students, non-alumni, non-females and it would seem by the composition of the marchers, maybe even non-blacks, but if they don't mind I would be happy to be called a Delta Male.
Postscript (January 16, 2017)
Great photos here of the 1913 parade.
© 2013 by JT Marlin