October 23, 1915– 1915 Suffrage Parade
68 years after the Seneca Falls Convention first passed a resolution in favor of Women’s Right to Vote and 65 years to the day after the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, more than 60,000 women marched up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to advocate for Equal Rights for women. They wouldn’t find success for another five years.
New York City’s 1915 march was the largest women’s protest held until that time. The failing New York Times ran an editorial warning that if women got the vote, they would “play havoc for themselves and society” and that “granted the suffrage, they would demand all the rights that implies. It is not possible to think of women as soldiers and sailors, police patrolmen, or firemen…” Oh my god, can you imagine the degradation of society? What would come next? Women marrying women? A woman President?!?
In 1917, New York State granted women the right to vote. It was the 14th state to do so, and a domino effect lead to the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which finally granted women the right to vote in the USA.
The very fact that so many women took to the streets made a very strong statement. At that time, a woman’s place was in the home while men dealt with the dirty business of politics. Some suffragists claimed that they could clean up the corrupt world of political decisions, and they wore white dresses as a symbol. They carried heavy banners to disprove any claims they were didn’t have the stamina to survive away from husband and home.
It wasn’t just women marching that pleasant autumn day in Manhattan, at least 3000 enlightened, brave men marched alongside them. More than 250,000 spectators, mostly supportive, lined the parade route for five hours.
Many occupational groups were represented, generally with members in some sort of costume denoting their profession, as well as a banner in front stating what that work was, in case men didn’t understand. Each group had its own delegation and unique colors, though white and “suffrage yellow” were the most common colors. One of the largest groups marching in the parade that day were the teachers, some wearing black with suffrage yellow sashes, others in their caps and gowns. They carried banners bearing messages such as: YOU TRUST US WITH THE CHILDREN; TRUST US WITH THE VOTE.
The well-organized event which featured elaborate floats, equestrian corps and marching bands, had a push-back. People reading the newspapers in the days that followed found the coverage was about things like the women’s hats, costumes, dogs (confusion over whether dogs could march in the parade was apparently resolved only the day before), and the reactions of male onlookers, instead of any thoughtful writings about if it was about time to give women the right to vote. Ladies’ Home Journal ran a feature on the marching women as shoppers, saying:
“The ballot was uppermost, of course, but shopping rarely is far from a woman’s mind”.
By the way, African-American women were not invited to participate.