Monday, November 23, 2015

On to Congress! (And to President Wilson)

The women on horseback representing the states that had already given
women the right to vote.
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
“Shortly after eleven o’clock this morning a travel-stained motor car…rolled slowly over the Baltimore Pike and came to a halt just at the edge of the city.”[1] Gathered to meet them were women on horseback representing the states that had already given women the vote, and many hundreds more on foot and in automobiles. The women’s Justice Bell was also a feature. A marching band played rousing tunes in the winter chill, and when it launched into the “Marseillaise” the procession moved slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

“The famous four-mile [!] petition bearing 500,000 signatures, rolled up on huge spools, was in charge of Mrs. J. A. H. Hopkins and Miss Julia Hurlburt of New Jersey, the President’s home state. In the parade to the Capitol, and again on the march to the White House it was borne, unrolled to a length of 100 feet, by 20 petition bearers.”[2] 
A version of the "We Demand" banner, citing the names of the men submitting it in the US House and Senate,
leads the CU parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.

At the Capitol Representative Mondell, who would introduce it in the House the following day, told them, “We trust that the pressure of other matters of importance will not be made an excuse for delaying or postponing action on the highly important question in behalf of which you present your petition. Under free government there can be no more important question than one involving the suffrage rights of half the people.”

Everyone seemed impressed by the envoys’ journey and by the signatures on the petition. “Nothing could be more impressive,” President Wilson told the women assembled at the White House later in the day. “This visit of yours will remain in my mind not only as a delightful compliment but also as a most impressive thing, which undoubtedly will make it necessary for all of us to consider very carefully what is right for us to do…” He said he would “consult most earnestly with his colleagues at the other end of the city.”[3]

Women hauling the partially unfurled (to 100 feet) suffrage petition up the steps of the US Capitol.
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
At the start of his term in 1914 President Wilson had told suffrage leaders that that he hadn’t really given much thought to suffrage at all. Regular visits from suffragists representing both the CU and NAWSA made sure that he didn’t lack opportunity to think about the issue. Now, almost three years later, he seemed to be paying more attention. When New Jersey had voted on a statewide suffrage amendment just the preceding month he’d made a big show of traveling to the state to vote in favor of it, but had emphasized then that he still thought it should be up to the states. But New Jersey voters denied women voting rights, and here these envoys had driven clear across the country bearing a threat from the women voters of the west. Move the federal amendment through Congress or we’ll come after you in the 1916 elections.

Did some part of him feel a little shiver, a little icy breath on the back of his neck, thinking about the 1912 election? That year 6,294,284 voters had supported him, compared to 4,120,609 for Theodore Roosevelt and 3,487,937 for William Howard Taft. So- not exactly a landslide for him, and if enough of the 4 million women voters- and maybe some of their husbands or brothers- turned against him his victory in 1916 could be at risk. Maybe it was time to talk to his colleagues on the Hill…

Maria, Sara, Mabel, and Ingeborg. I think Ingeborg is actually smiling!
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
So ended the first ever cross-country automobile trip undertaken by women for a cause. The celebration around their arrival was followed by the CU’s annual conference, and the envoys hung around to participate in that. It would be some time, in fact, before Sara made her way back to San Francisco. She was much in demand as a suffrage speaker, and I know she traveled to Minnesota in March 1916. Still broke and needing work to support herself, suffrage organizing might have been the best option available to her. California women already had the vote, so she had to stay in the east. She also ended up working as a personal secretary to Alva “Mrs. O.H.P.” Belmont, who was the CU’s primary benefactor. 

Maria and Ingeborg headed back to their home in Providence, struggling through a horrific snowstorm en route. Eastern and southeastern New York had been clobbered with two to three feet of snow right after the CU Convention ended, and they drove smack into it. “Not- Yet- have we recover [sic] from the terrible experience we must go through on our way home in the Snow Storm,” Ingeborg wrote Alice Paul after Christmas. “But we arrived!”[4] They sure were made of hardy stuff.

Despite the difficulties of the trip I think they were pumped at having been involved, and were committed to continue suffrage organizing in Rhode Island. They’d previously formed The Women’s Political Equality League of Rhode Island, and were considering turning it into a branch of the CU. Still more to find out there.

Their story ends here for now, as I continue doing the research I didn’t have time to complete during the trip. Mine continues into the next blog post, in which I talk about our own little event on Capitol Hill.

[1] “The Women Voters’ Envoys Present their Petition to The President and to Congress.” The Suffragist, December 11, 1915, pp. 4-5.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ingeborg Kindstedt to Alice Paul, December 27, 1915, National Woman’s Party Papers, Part 2, Series 1, Reel 22. 

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