The Washington suffrage parade of March 3, 1913 – officially titled by its creators as the Woman Suffrage Procession – spanned but a brief moment in the history of the debate over whether women in the United States should vote. On that day, no one understood or could have predicted the outcome of the events or the broader implications they would have.
Alice Paul, the woman who set these events in motion, envisioned an event that would arrest and impress viewers with a kaleidoscope of color, people and ideas. Grace, movement and feminine beauty would be the tools that would lift the idea of suffrage onto a higher plane of public debate than it had ever been in America. There were stirrings in America in this new century that made the timing right for such an event. Paul understood all this as well as anyone of her age, and she acted with a fierce determination, and against monumental odds, to make it happen.
But not even Paul could have foreseen the broader effects of the parade, and she certainly could not have predicted the outcome of the events of that day.
Paul’s immediate goal was to have both men and women see and take seriously the idea of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow women to vote. To that end, Paul succeeded beyond any reasonable measure. Although it took seven years of difficult and frustrating political work to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, the parade can rightly be seen as the moment when everything about the suffrage debate changed.
The changes that the Nineteenth Amendment wrought were subtle and profound and are still being felt a century after its passage. In the continuing debate over who has power in America – a debate that has been going on since Europeans first landed in America – the Nineteenth Amendment represented the single most radical and extensive broadening of the electorate in our history. This shift ultimately affected every corner of political life.
So, looking at the parade and its subsequent events after a century can tell us much about the place and era in which it happened, about the attitudes of Americans at the beginning of the modern age, and about the way journalism had changed.
And look – literally – we can.
The event was created in great part for pictures. It was one of the first political events in American history that was staged for visual purposes. Fortunately, many of those photographs taken that day have survived. This book attempts to present the most interesting and informative pictures
of that day and the people who participated in it. If we look at them closely, they will reveal much about the people of the time and about ourselves.
This book exists because my friend and colleague Ed Caudill recognized its possibilities. Ed is a historian and scholar of the first order and a specialist in the political ideas of the early twentieth century. When I described the Washington parade and the pictures I had discovered in the process of doing some general research on women’s suffrage, he said, “There’s your book. That’s the one you should do first.”
Ed then told me to call Scot Danforth, director of the University of Tennessee Press, to see if he would be interested. When I finally got around to doing that, Scot was open and soon enthusiastic about the project.
So, I owe much to Ed for giving me the idea. And, since no good deed should go unpunished, I asked Ed to write a forward to the book. He kindly consented to do so, and his forward sets this event into a larger context that helps the reader understand its implications.
Thanks should go also to Scot Danforth for his interest in this project and his efforts in seeing it through from creation to publication.
The two people who formally reviewed the manuscript – Janice Hume of the University of Georgia and Kris Myers of the Alice Paul Institute – were enormously helpful with their ideas, information, corrections and suggestions. They made this a better book, and I thank them very much.
Special thanks is also due to Jennifer Krafchik, assistant director and director of collections at the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, D.C. Jennifer generously made all of the pictures of the suffrage parade in the Sewell-Belmont collection available for this book. She spent much time and effort in reading the manuscript, responding to my inquiries and making suggestions. She has been a willing and contributing partner throughout this project, and her efforts have made this book a richer experience for the readers. I am humbly grateful to her.
My daughter-in-law Francoise Stovall read an early version of the manuscript and made many helpful comments. My son Jeff and my wife Sally, who gives an intelligent reading to most everything I write, suffered nobly through yet another book manuscript, and I am always grateful for their encouragement and support.
None of these good people, of course, is responsible for any shortcomings in this work. That responsibility is mine alone.
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