Today in Feminist History: Young Suffragists Will March For Their Futures (October 21, 1915)

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.


October 21, 1915: Children will definitely be marching in what’s planned to be the biggest suffrage parade in New York City’s history.

The cover of a booklet put out by the Empire State Campaign Committee. This group, founded in 1913 by Carrie Chapman Catt, and still headed by her, is coordinating the work of many suffrage organizations for the upcoming suffrage referendum in New York State.

Recently, opponents accused suffrage supporters of exploiting their own children by having them march in parades, so it had been previously announced that they would not be participating this time. But a backlash occurred among many of the mothers, and so today the policy was reversed.

A typical reaction against the initial ban came from Elizabeth Selden Rogers, who had said:

“My Betty shall march if there is not another child in the parade. Betty is nine, and she and the children of her age have learned in school about Washington and his fight for liberty, and they are old enough to understand women’s fight for freedom. There is no more reason why children should not appear in a suffrage parade than at the Piping Rock Horse Show or at other social events. They will be much safer in the parade with police protection than on the sidewalks watching with the crowds.”

The children’s detachment will fall in line at Twenty-second Street and march to Fifty-eighth Street along the Fifth Avenue route. The girls will be wearing white dresses, white sweaters, white parade hats with small green ornaments, and will carry green pennants. Among those marching will be Harriot Stanton De Forest, age five, great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The parade is expected to be so large, and take so long, that the Women’s Political Union is stockpiling torches for use if the last marchers finish their journey after dark. One float – and there will be many – will have 10 elaborately costumed figures representing “Victory,” “Liberty,” “Equality,” “Justice,” and six continents. The W.P.U. will also have a “cavalry division” of women on horses, as well as their famous “Victory Van,” which our volunteers used to give out huge amounts of literature in the New Jersey campaign. Hopefully it will live up to its name here, even if it failed to do so in our neighboring State day before yesterday. The event should certainly make quite an impression on the male voters of New York, who will vote in a statewide woman suffrage referendum on November 2.

Alice Stone Blackwell, president of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, was optimistic today when asked about the prospects of winning in the Bay State 12 days from now:

“Ohio defeated woman suffrage in 1912, but that had no effect on Kansas, Oregon and Arizona. The failure in New Jersey does not mean that Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania will defeat suffrage. The question is much better understood in this State.”

In Hingham, Massachusetts, the outlook appears particularly favorable. The result of a straw poll of 14 men taken yesterday by the local Equal Suffrage League was revealed today. Twelve of the men surveyed said they would vote “Yes,” and only two “No.” Both sides have a presence there, with 40 active and 50 associate members in the Equal Suffrage League, though the Anti-suffrage Association is actually larger, with a claimed membership of 150, plus 200 more on its mailing list.

In Pennsylvania, there was a large audience assembled in the Gettysburg Court House this evening to hear suffrage speeches by Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale and others. The listeners must have enjoyed what they were hearing, because the room was full when the evening began, and ended the same way. Hale said that the fight was “a movement of progressive persons against conservatism—not a fight of women against men.” In fact, “from the inception of the movement, it has had the support of many fine, chivalrous, far-seeing men.” She noted that the fight for equality has gone through three stages. First came the struggle for equal education, then equality in employment, and finally for equality for wives and husbands in the home, and those who opposed the first two steps are now fighting the third.

With less than two weeks left until the vote on the Pennsylvania suffrage referendum, Hale reminded her audience that suffrage has always been earned by actions and never just freely given:

“Men won their freedom for themselves and that is why they value it so highly. In the same way we must work for it, we must sacrifice for it, we must give for it. We must remember that George the Third did not hand out independence with each pound of tea; neither can we sit down over our teacups and expect to get it.”

Our forces in all three States with upcoming referenda are definitely not just sitting around drinking tea and hoping for victory. They’re working very hard for it, and generating unprecedented support. Though the vote on Tuesday in New Jersey was a disappointment, it certainly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of anyone working for a triple victory on November 2.


The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

About

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.