Today in Feminist History: The Suffrage “Snake Dance”

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.

February 17, 1913: It’s day six of the suffrage hike from Newark, New Jersey to Washington, D.C., and the intrepid pilgrims have now passed the 100-mile mark while covering 14 miles from Philadelphia to Chester, Pennsylvania.

That’s a shorter than average distance for a day’s hike, but the condition of their feet now makes each mile seem much longer than at the start. Several local, temporary recruits came along for the day as well, one of whom has actually voted. While a resident of Wyoming (where women won the vote in 1869), she cast a ballot for William McKinley, elected President in 1896 and 1900.

The nine members of the suffragist Army of the Hudson who have walked the entire distance so far (General Rosalie Jones, Colonel Ida Craft, Corporal Martha Klatchken and Privates Elizabeth Aldrich, Mary Boldt, Phoebe Hawn, Katherine Wend, Constance Leupp, and Minerva Crowell) are accompanied by nearly fifty war correspondents (reporters), plus Olive Schultz and Mary Baird in the scout car, and Elizabeth Freeman driving the ammunition (literature) wagon, pulled by Lausanne, the suffragist horse.

Though heavy snow was falling as the hikers left Philadelphia’s Hotel Walton this morning, a crowd of several hundred still turned out to cheer them as they formed into a single file and began marching to the beat of a fife and drum corps at the head of the line.

Today’s first stop was at the University of Pennsylvania, whose students were so eager to meet the pilgrims that they came out to greet them as they approached, then performed a “snake dance” as they led their visitors to the campus. At least a thousand students were waiting there at a “Votes for Women” rally at the law school, as were 200 police officers. The city did not wish to be unprepared today, as was the case yesterday, when only 6 officers were assigned to deal with 2,000 unruly citizens when the hikers arrived in Philadelphia. The college rally was totally peaceful and supportive. 

Snow was still falling heavily as the troops left the college. In addition to slowing their pace a bit, the storm gave plenty of ammunition to a group of small boys who ambushed the hikers with snowballs in Leiperville. The suffrage army kept advancing even under fire, however, and was soon assisted by a squad of mounted cadets from the Pennsylvania Military College, who quickly routed the attackers. The hikers think the little boys had been encouraged to launch their volley of snowballs by older citizens of the town, who seemed to greatly enjoy the battle from the sidelines.

The pilgrims’ arrival in Chester was announced by the bells of St. Paul’s Church, then the Chief of Police escorted them to a tea held in their honor at the Y.M.C.A. Speeches of welcome were given by the mayor’s wife, and the President of the Men’s League for Equal Suffrage of the University of Pennsylvania. Despite having to march another 14 miles to Wilmington, Delaware, tomorrow, the hikers still chose to spend the evening giving speeches at a well-attended suffrage rally in the public square, rather than resting or sleeping, so their enthusiasm remains undiminished !


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.