Today in Feminist History: The Suffrage Road Gets Rough

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 21, 1913: “The worst stretch of road between Boston and Atlanta” was the way one local resident described it, and none of the suffrage hikers showed any desire to dispute that claim as they slogged their way from Elkton to Havre De Grace, Maryland today.

The condition of the alleged “road” was so poor in places that many pilgrims found the going easier in nearby farmers’ fields.

But as unpleasant as it was for those who were walking, it was even worse for the automobiles accompanying the hikers. Three times today, their machines needed to be pulled out of the mud by horses. Mud was not the only problem the suffragist Army of the Hudson’s mechanized division faced. Both the baggage car and commissary wagon caught fire, though fortunately, little damage was done, due to quick action. 

PHOTO: General Rosalie Jones stands outside Elizabeth Freeman’s literature (“ammunition”) wagon as Freeman sits inside

Despite all of today’s obstacles, the troops marched on toward Washington, D.C., and even picked up a new recruit. Margaret Geist, her two-wheeled cart, and a burro named “Jerry” are traveling across the country, and have decided to accompany the hikers.

Though one encounter this morning was with an apparently anti-suffrage turkey who didn’t like the pilgrims cutting across his territory, the suffragists got a much more friendly reception from Mary Peterson, who led them down a side road to her home. Already well behind schedule, the troops couldn’t stay for dinner, but they did have time to go on an egg-hunting expedition in the barn, and eagerly consumed a number of the best, freshly-laid ones.

The next stop was at Northeast, where all five of the Commissioners, plus the village “patriarch” and his suffragist niece, Emily Peach, were waiting to welcome the pilgrims, and gave them a luncheon. Passing through Charleston, the marchers were given musical accompaniment when Bayard Black brought his gramophone out on the porch and played “Maryland, My Maryland” as the hikers passed by. The employees of Principio Furnace stopped work long enough to wave yellow suffrage banners, and many of the men at the big steel mills came out to applaud the hikers.

Arrival in Havre De Grace was later than expected due to the condition of the “road,” but was well worth the extra trouble. A brass band and citizens’ committee crossed the Susquehanna River and met the marchers at Perryville, then escorted them to the Havre De Grace City Hall, where Mayor Weber gave an address and presented them with the key to the city. Not all the troops were present for the ceremony, however. Colonel Craft didn’t arrive until 9 p.m., due to her swollen and blistered feet, and two other hikers also straggled in at the same time.

Though reluctant to admit it, all the hikers are showing clear signs of ailments similar to Craft’s, plus fatigue from the long trip. But absolutely no one doubts that they will finish what they started nine days ago in Newark, New Jersey, and that this small, but dedicated group will have given a big boost to the struggle for woman suffrage by the time they finally arrive in the nation’s capital and join in the massive suffrage parade and pageant on March third. 


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.