Today in Feminist History: Hazards on the Suffrage Hike

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 26, 1912: This eleventh day of the suffrage hike from the Bronx to New York’s capital of Albany finds General Rosalie Jones and her small but determined army now almost in sight of their goal.

But the objective isn’t about to fall easily.

Today, the advancing troops had to contend with ice, melting snow, ankle-deep mud in places, the sound of occasional gunshots and, as if that wasn’t enough, one hiker even had to dodge a rocket as a unique “incident of the day.” 

The pilgrims and their local escorts “hit the pike” at 10:00, when it was still below freezing. As they were leaving Hudson via Fairway Avenue, a group of children invited the hikers to slide with them in a stretch of icy pavement perfect for the game. General Jones gave it a try, and soon the entire army was sliding around and having at least as much fun as the kids.

PHOTO: The ninth (#109) in a series of postcards produced on a profit-sharing basis by the Cargill Company and the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Next, as they approached a plant that makes cement out of material blasted from the hillsides, they received a totally unexpected and unnerving salute from the workers, who set off several blasts, one after another, for the benefit of the marchers. These were far from the last startling sounds of the day, as hunters were out in unusually high numbers as well. 

Mary and Margaret Callahan were encountered sledding down a big hill, and since sledding in snow is at least as much fun as sliding around on ice, a second break was taken.

Two local escorts were picked up in Stottsville, and they had quite an adventure during their short trek to Stockport. Just beyond the bridge spanning Kinderhook Creek, two men decided to salute the suffragists crossing the bridge by setting off several rockets they had placed on a chair outside a general store. But instead of going up, the first one went sideways, knocking Surgeon-General Dock’s staff from her hand, brushing her open coat, and missed hitting her only because a quick-thinking fellow hiker pulled her aside just in time. 

Once in Stockport, the pilgrims got partial support from the woman in charge of the local post office, a descendant of former President (1837-1841) Martin Van Buren. She was leaning toward supporting the right of women to vote, but not yet ready for a woman to hold the same office as her Presidential ancestor.

Even finding a place to rest for the night was an adventure. Colonel Craft asked a man in the street for directions to the nearest hotel, and he pointed down the road. When the hikers saw a substantial-looking building they assumed was a hotel, they decided to walk in. But it turned out to be a woolen mill. Fortunately, their reception by the management was still friendly. Actually, it turned out to be a bit too friendly when suffrage supporter Louis Wilcox decided to salute his visitors with an unannounced double-barreled shotgun blast into the air.

After 130 miles, often under atrocious weather and road conditions, many less dedicated suffragists would have had enough of hiking, and certainly be questioning the wisdom of undertaking such a long trek in winter. But not these now-seasoned troops. Even though this march isn’t even over yet, the main topic of the day was enthusiastic talk of a second pilgrimage. 

The next suffrage hike will be much longer, and in no better weather. A plan is afoot to hike from New York City to Washington, D.C., in February, in order to lobby President-elect Wilson to actively support the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment after he’s inaugurated on March 4th. Judging by the extraordinary amount of favorable publicity this small group has generated with its first-ever suffrage hike, whose purpose is to drum up support for putting a suffrage referendum on the New York State ballot, this upcoming multi-State trek sounds like a great way to advance the cause of woman suffrage nationwide.

Hopefully there will be re-enlistments by the veterans, plus many new recruits for the second hike!


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.