They had traveled all the way from St. Paul the day before. Boarding the train in Minot, North Dakota, they were excited, scared and defiant; excited to be a part of something big, something important, something historic. Scared of the unprotected unknown that was Washington DC. They were leaving a place that was small, sheltering and known to a place that was large, exposed and foreign. Some were defying fathers, brothers, and husbands. And that too, was exciting and scary. But like a corset bound too tight they were bursting to be free.
They had come to the Nation’s capital for a cause. They were answering the call. The call sent out by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony many years before and Lucy Burns and Alice Paul now.
THE RIGHT TO VOTE!
The importance of women’s suffrage was clear to them. As young women, barely out of school, they hugged this cause to their breast. Espoused the sayings, sang the songs, and rallied with others to make their feelings known to a world ruled my men.
WHY YOU MUST MARCH!
They stood flyers in hand, waiting their turn to join the ranks of thousands of women who would be parading down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was March 3rd. The day before Woodrow Wilson arrived in town for his presidential inauguration, this president who would later remark that he hadn’t given the cause “any thought”.
Little did these idealist young women know but this day and their participation would turn out to be the turning point in the suffrage movement. Little did they or the suffrage movement leaders know that the peaceful and lawful parade and demonstration that the suffrage leaders had planned would become ugly. They didn’t know that amidst the estimated half million onlookers there were abusive and angry men lining the street. It would never have occurred to them that these men would start yelling obscenities, hurling lit cigar butts, slapping them, mobbing and sometimes beating them, while the police force did very little or nothing to stop the attackers. Two hundred marchers would be hurt, while complacent onlookers would stall or even detain medical personal trying to come to the aid of the injured demonstrators. Unbeknownst to them some of their 5000 strong would be arrested.
Had the young women known all this would they still have joined the parade that day?
Of course! Their cause was just.
VOTE FOR WOMEN!
Note: the happenings at this event created a public outcry that resulted in the firing of the Washington DC chief of police and fueled the movement. And while it took another seven years for women to receive the right to vote the movement gained supporters after these events. To read more about the march and the women’s suffrage movement to go the Library of Congress website.
So there is my story.
Is it the real story of this photograph? No.
Is it compelling? I like to think so.
Does it explain an event or teach a lesson? I hope so.