History of Women’s Suffrage: March 3, 1913
On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as President of the United States, thousands of women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. as part of the Woman Suffrage Procession. This was done:
“in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”
What is Suffrage?
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise, is the right to vote in public, political elections, and referendums. The Latin word suffragium means “the right to vote.”
Women’s Rights in Perspective
This is part of “First Wave Feminism,” in contrast to the more familiar “Second Wave Feminism” of the 1970s.
- In 1848 the Seneca Falls Convention started the First Wave with women’s rights advocates draft of the “Declaration of Sentiments,” including a provision to extend the right to vote to all women., This Wave of the movement ended in 1920 with the culmination of the effort to secure women the right to vote.
- The Second Wave began in 1963 with the publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan as an effort to achieve equal pay in the workplace. Leaders like Gloria Steinem helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971 and drove the “Equal Rights Amendment” effort in 1972. It fell short of the number of states needed for ratification. The “Women’s Liberation Movement” began to lose momentum by the early ’80s following the election of Ronald Reagan.
The Woman Suffrage Procession
Between 5,000 and 10,000 women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., the first large, organized march in the Capitol City for political purposes.
Alice Paul and Lucy Burns of the National American Suffrage Association had been planning it for over three months, intending to maximize publicity for the cause with a procession of speakers, bands, floats, and women representing the workplace, school, and home. Helen Keller spoke at Memorial Continental Hall.
Paul and Burns had witnessed the usefulness of non-violent militant activism in the suffrage efforts of the British Women’s Social and Political Union.
There had been marches in other cities, but this event in Washington, D.C., rekindled the campaign to secure an amendment to the Constitution for women’s right to vote.
This was achieved in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment.
As part of the march, the Treasury Building’s steps offered an “allegorical tableau.” We would now call this a silent play with background music. These were popular during holiday events across the country.
Different people portrayed various characteristics of patriotism for the attendees to emulate. Columbia, the personification of America, was there, as were Liberty, Peach, Hope, Justice, and Charity. Think of the Independence Day tableau presented by the River City Ladies’ Committee in the high school gym in the movie The Music Man.
Results for Suffrage
Just over a month after the parade, the so-called “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” was re-introduced in both houses of Congress. For the first time in decades, it was debated on the floor. The march on Pennsylvania Avenue was the precursor to Paul’s other high-profile interview that, along with actions by the National American Suffrage Association, concluded the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution on June 4, 1919, and its ratification on August 1920.
In 2026, the back of the new U.S. $10 bill is expected to be released into circulation, depicting the Woman Suffrage Procession as it passed the allegorical tableau at the Treasury Building.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian