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“Fine Dignity, Picturesque Beauty, and Serious Purpose”:

The Reorientation of Suffrage Media in the Twentieth Century

Emily Scarbrough, Author

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On March 3, 1913 thousands of American women marched in Washington D.C. for the cause of woman’s suffrage. They were militant marchers, yet they balanced their dedication with femininity and nonaggressive behavior.  Some wore all white, the color of purity, others pushed strollers and handed out sandwiches, representing their domestic lives as wives and mothers; women assembled from states all over and from every walk of life – African American women were forced to parade separately, but they came nonetheless. The parade stood as a sign of solidarity – women wanted the vote.[1]

Inez Milholland, a lawyer, activist, and suffragist emerged as the face of the movement by riding a pure white horse through the nation’s capital wearing all white. She embodied the vision of suffragists as beautiful, young, vibrant women, whose passion and dedication likened them to modern-day Joan of Arcs. Their militancy was seen, not as masculine or threatening, but as virtuous and just.

The parade began the day before Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration as President of the United States, and the women marched right up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, championing the cause of woman’s suffrage. It was a message to the president-elect and the mob who greeted the suffragists that they were no longer the old, unwed spinsters of the nineteenth century. Woman suffragists stood, as Mrs. Helen Gardener envisioned, with “fine dignity, picturesque beauty, and serious purpose.”[2]

[1] In reality, many women in America did not want the vote. They formed anti-suffragist leagues, including the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS). However, suffragists sought to create a parade that showed the support rather than opposition to woman’s suffrage.

[2] “The Suffrage Parade.”

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