Today in Feminist History: A Suffrage Procession for the Ages (April 18, 1910)

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.

April 18, 1910: This has certainly been a busy day for the National American Woman Suffrage Association!

Before the morning was over, convention delegates re-elected Reverend Anna Howard Shaw as N.A.W.S.A.’s President, and had begun a procession of nearly fifty automobiles to Capitol Hill.

The motorized parade carried petitions signed by over 404,000 citizens who want the Susan B. Anthony Amendment (which would bar sex discrimination in regard to voting rights nationwide) passed by Congress, then sent to the 46 States for ratification. Approval by 3/4 (35) would make the Anthony Amendment the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, unless the Income Tax Amendment, already submitted to the States on July 12th of last year, is ratified first.

The caravan got off to a bit of a late start due to a change of plans. Originally, the petitions were all together in one huge and quite impressive roll in a large express wagon. But at the last minute it was decided to unroll them and divide them up so that each State leader could arrive with the petitions from her State. It took about half an hour to do this, but once that was accomplished, a wonderfully colorful procession of automobiles and taxicabs began to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue, each carrying a banner from one of the States, with other cars for N.A.W.S.A. officers.

After being given a warm reception at the Capitol steps, the petitioners then descended on Congress, making sure that each member was given a petition from his District or State, and was then urged to officially present that petition to Congress. Everyone went into the galleries to see who would follow through on this request. A number of members of both House and Senate did as they had been asked, but the enthusiastic reaction to the speeches presenting the petitions almost got the N.A.W.S.A. members booted out of the Senate gallery.

The most popular petition presentation was made by Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, Republican of Wisconsin, who said he hoped Congress would bring the ballot “into the hands of an intelligent part of our citizenship that should have received it long ago.” This caused an understandable outburst of cheers from the gallery, so Senator John Kean, Republican of New Jersey, who was presiding, called for order.

Decorum lasted until Senator Moses Clapp, Republican of Minnesota, made his presentation. His speech sparked a well-deserved round of applause, to which Senator Kean responded, “No applause allowed in the United States Senate.” Three applauders laughed, then Senator Kean said: “If there is any repetition, the Sergeant-At-Arms will be ordered to clear the galleries.” Not wanting to miss any of the kind words of supportive Senators, everyone in the galleries then quietly enjoyed hearing the cause promoted on the Senate floor.

In the House, no speeches were permitted during the presentation of petitions, but visitors were allowed to applaud as each pro-suffrage member went up to the Speaker’s desk to deposit his petition. The largest number of signatures, 72,000, came from New York, with Utah, an equal-suffrage State, contributing the next-highest total of 40,000.

Today was the culmination of a year-long effort to gather signatures by N.A.W.S.A.’s State chapters. Some of the more prosperous ones would rent out booth space at county fairs and other events, while in other States, N.A.W.S.A. members would simply walk around soliciting signatures from crowds at various public gatherings.

It is hoped that this presentation will be enough to get the Anthony Amendment out of Congressional committees, where it has been bottled up for the past 14 years. Tomorrow, several eloquent advocates for our cause will appear before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage and the House Committee on the Judiciary to make the case for women having equal voting rights with men in all States and Territories.

Though it’s true that there have been no victories since Idaho became the 4th equal-suffrage State in 1896, the fact that President Taft personally greeted the N.A.W.S.A. convention delegates this year, the launching of a massive, nationwide petition drive, the emergence of new and energetic organizations such as Harriot Stanton Blatch’s “Equality League of Self-Supporting Women,” and the use of public spectacles such as the League’s suffrage parade planned for May 21st in New York City, are clear proof that our movement has been revitalized, and that new victories to match this new enthusiasm should soon follow !


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.