The Suffrage Christmas Carol

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

December 24, 1912: A 22-mile advance in driving snow today for General Rosalie Jones and her unstoppable suffrage army’s march from the Bronx to New York’s capital of Albany!

Tonight, they’re just 32 miles from their final objective.

The ninth day of the hike began late, due to the troops having to come up with tougher footwear. General Jones finally chose rubber boots filled with cotton to battle the storm. Despite ice in their hair and snow beating on their faces, all the army’s “regulars” trudged on, and a few temporary reinforcements were even added along the way.

Lillian and Julia Rockefeller and their cousin Alethe Holsapple escorted the pilgrims out of Upper Red Hook. Lillian wanted to do the entire march, but had parental permission to do only the 10 miles to Blue Store, though due to the weather, even that short segment turned out to be quite an adventure. 

Once underway, the pace was surprisingly brisk. Blue Store was reached about 12:45, where a luncheon was held for the hikers. At this point the question became whether to stay where they were, or go on 12 more miles to Hudson. After a meeting of the High Command, it was decided to move on, snow or no snow, and rest on Christmas. 

Despite the atrocious weather, a small crowd awaited the troops at Clermont, and asked the General for a speech. Worried that the snow might get even worse, Jones was inclined to keep marching. But Colonel Craft, totally incapable of passing up any opportunity to promote “The Cause,” stood next to a horse trough and delivered a rousing speech to the hardy spectators. 

As might be expected, every Mile Post was cheered, and several times the sound of singing could be heard, usually begun by Private Alice Clark: “I’m a pilgrim, I’m a stranger, I can tarry but a night …”

It was dark – and Christmas Eve – when the hikers finally reached Hudson, so there were no crowds to meet them as they marched down Warren Street. But there were warm and dry hotel rooms, hot blankets and even a poem written for the General by Elizabeth Aldrich.

PHOTO: The 22nd (#122) in a series of postcards being put out on a profit-sharing basis by the Cargill Company and the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Appropriate to the night before Christmas, some of its verses read: 

For there to my wondering eyes did appear,
The miniature army of four tiny dears.

With an odd draggled General, weary of bones,
I knew in a moment ’twas Rosalie Jones.

More slow than a snail,
She was dragging her feet.

And urging her blisters,
And cobbles to meet.

‘On Percy, on Merry, come left and right,’
Ne’er footsore crusaders in sorrier plight.”

Yes, General Jones has names for her feet, and quietly urges them on by name when the going gets tough. It’s rumored to be an old soldier’s trick, which apparently works!

But all the marching has been paying off with favorable publicity. For instance, though the New York Times strongly opposes woman suffrage, and frequently says so on its editorial page, it has had one of its reporters hiking along with the troops, sending back daily and quite positive reports. Today the pilgrim army sent a telegram to the Times, which has promised to print it tomorrow. It says:

“The Suffragette pilgrims in the march to Albany, through THE TIMES, wish those who are fighting for the cause, a very Merry Christmas. Albany is now in sight. We know that some good has been accomplished by our rather spectacular march, more good results than could have been accomplished by a more sedate ‘calling’ upon the Governor-elect.

“The amendment which will be submitted in 1915 has a better chance of favorable consideration than it had three months ago. The people of this State have seen us, they have asked us questions, we have had the chance to explain to them face to face just what this great cause represents. And tired as we are after our long march, we are happy this Christmas Day and we wish the gladdest of season’s greetings to all suffragists all over the country.”

The hikers’ immediate goal is just 32 miles away, and at least partially thanks to the dedication of this little band, the goal of “Votes for Women” in New York State may be just three years away from also being reached!


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.