Monday, September 21, 2015

And Now we Begin

48 cities
20 states and the District of Columbia
Eight weeks

That pretty much sums up our itinerary. The 48 cities are those in which the envoys spent at least one night, and we’ll be following their route pretty precisely, except for a few days in Kansas when they backtracked a bit and we’ll take a more direct route. 

The weather here has been crystal clear and hot the last couple of days, with cool, starry nights, which sounds similar the weather leading up to the envoys’ departure. (Pretty much all similarities between our departure and theirs end at this point, however.) Alice Paul and the Congressional Union (CU) were masters at staging political theater, so the envoys’ send-off came at the end of a three-day conference that was the country's first-ever meeting of women voters. The CU recruited delegates to the conference from the 12 states that had already granted women voting rights, and the schedule was carefully orchestrated to bring women to the point where they “elected” the envoys to be sent to DC. In fact, Alice Paul had already cajoled Sara Bard Field and Frances Joliffe to serve as the envoys (some earlier picks had refused), and of course the Swedes had the car, so while their identity was kept a secret until they were nominated, that had all been agreed to ahead of time.

The women voters of the west were sending the envoys as messengers to Congress and the President to demand an amendment to the US Constitution enfranchising women. Implicit in this was a warning; support the federal amendment or we’ll organize the 4 million women voters to oppose you in 1916. President Wilson would be running for re-election then, as well as a third of the Senate and all of the Representatives, and the Democratic Party was in the majority. If you don’t support our amendment, the women were telling the Democrats, you risk losing the Presidency and your majority in Congress.

This was a flexion of women’s political muscle the country was not accustomed to and which many found abhorrent. Women simply weren’t supposed to behave this way. While it didn’t produce the amendment immediately the strategy sure got the Democrats’ attention.

The envoys were launched at night from the Court of Abundance at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). According to the San Francisco Bulletin, a crowd of some 10,000 people was on hand to witness the event. The CU had recruited a huge women’s chorus to sing “The Song of the Free Women,” which Sara Bard Field had written and set to the tune of the Marseillaise, a French freedom song. A couple of the verses went as follows:

We are women clad in new power.
Detail of the Palace of Fine Arts- courtesy of Bob Thawley
We see the weak. We hear their plea.
We march to set our sisters free.
Lo! Has rung the chime from Freedom’s tower…

No more we bend the knee imploring.
No longer urge our cause with tears.
We have rent asunder binding fears.
We are women strong for women warring.

At the appointed hour, the crowd escorted the envoys to the gates. Here’s how the Bulletin reporter described it:

"Then, all at once, the great brightly colored picture and its dark background began to disintegrate and fade. The court darkened, but bright masses of women were forming in procession to escort the envoys to the gates of the Exposition. Orange lanterns swayed in the breeze; purple, white and gold draperies fluttered, the blare of the band burst forth, and the great surging crowd followed to the gates."

Close to midnight the Swedes met the procession in their car in front of the gates, and then the two envoys climbed in. Finally the gates opened and the car slipped through into the night, followed by the cheers of the crowd, “…ending the most dramatic and significant suffrage convention that has probably ever been held in the history of the world.”

Okay, so our departure isn’t going to be anything like that. It will be daylight, and there won’t be any crowd cheering us on, except maybe in my head. I like to imagine that scene at the PPIE, though. It also amuses me that the envoys didn’t actually leave San Francisco for another week or so; they apparently needed to register their car and it took a while to sort that out (no Fed-ex in those days…) So in the end they left just as we plan to this morning, they got in their car and drove away.

Yesterday we went and strolled around the Palace of Fine Arts, which is the last remaining building from the PPIE. It’s set in a lovely park, fronted by a narrow lagoon filled with swans, ducks, and egrets. While it’s only a tiny portion of what was there (the PPIE covered some 640 acres) it was fun to imagine people strolling around the grounds 100 years ago.
Rick and me at the Palace of Fine Arts

So off we go. It’s been great reconnecting with the Doubs, and exploring San Francisco a little, but I’m looking forward to our adventure.

Marian Doub, her Dad Bill, and husband Bob Thawley
Thanks for a great visit. Love you much!


  1. Congrat's on launching! Looking forward to following your trip. Are you going to post the map?

    1. Thanks Vickie- good thought, let me see what I can do.

  2. I so wish I had known about this sooner, I would have been there in period clothing and wished you a bon voyage!! I had not known about this aspect of the PPIE although we celebrated the exposition with an exhibit at Ardenwood's Patterson House in Fremont, CA. Clara had heard Susan B Anthony speak at Asilomar "back in the day". I am looking forward to following your trip!

    1. I wish I'd had the imagination to plan that, Mary Kay! Thanks for your note.

  3. I'm thrilled that your comment at my blog led me to your blog. Fascinating! When your travels are done, I'd love to ask you a question for a novel I'm writing which concerns this journey and period of history.

  4. Your posts on the background give such a great overview of what was going on, Anne. Next-best thing to being there. (Actually, maybe better--reading your blog is probably a lot less confusing than being there would have been.)