Five thousand women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1913, demanding the right to vote. Elspeth Kursh of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum shares artifacts from the parade, the subject of an artifact wall display here.
I love working with our collection of the National Woman's Party (NWP) because it is a tangible example of the power of passionate, committed people to change the world in which they live. At the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, we celebrate the history of women's progress towards equality. By interpreting the NWP collection, we contribute to the continuing discussion of women's past, present, and future. These three objects have much to say about our past.
Displayed on the side of a wagon that traveled through the parade, the Great Demand banner succinctly summarized the position of the women: nothing more or less than a change to the Constitution. This represented a complete departure from the earlier strategy of the suffrage movement: working for suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
Of the many, many photographs in our collection of the March 3, 1913 parade, this is one of my favorites. You can almost hear the shouting crowd. With people hanging from windows and out of cars, the parade became a huge riot. Both marching women and bystanders were injured, and this photograph captures a moment before bedlam descends.
This wonderful news article covers the aftermath of the parade, which devolved into a riot before it finished. After the police did nothing to subdue the crowd—a charge leveled during the Congressional Hearings that followed—the Fort Myer cavalry had to part the sea of people to allow the women to continue their march. This continued publicity was one of Alice Paul’s main goals, because it kept suffrage in the front of people's minds.
Reflecting on the work of the incredible women of the NWP—Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Alva Belmont, Florence Bayard Hilles, and others—I am always struck by their incredible commitment to improving the status of their fellow human beings. The power of the ballot—something many people of my generation take for granted—was only recently won, and I am honored to share the history of these brave women who fought for this fundamental right.
Elspeth Kursh is Collections & Facilities Manager at the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum. She holds a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Johns Hopkins University. To learn more about the 1913 suffrage parade, visit the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, read our post on Alice Paul, explore our woman suffrage collections, and visit the National Museum of American History's display about the parade. Vote! Women's History Month Family Festival takes place on March 2, 2013.