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March 5, 2013 / Man in the Mirror

Coshocton Tribune: Women marched for equal rights 100 years ago today

We’ve “come a long way, Baby,” to paraphrase the old cigarette commercial. Today, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Woman’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. About 8,000 women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.

It is really hard to think most of us don’t remember a time when women weren’t allowed to vote. My grandmother was too busy having babies to have been a suffragette. I imagine she accepted her lack of voice in the government. I can’t remember her ever discussing politics. I often wonder whether she ever voted.

But thanks to women like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association decided to demonstrate their desire to have the opportunity to decide on their leaders.

Six states already had given women full suffrage, but the leaders of NAWSA were reluctant to abandon their state-by-state campaign to get women the right to vote. Jane Addams, a well-known reformer, finally persuaded them to support the parade.

The parade was led by Inez Milholland, who was a lawyer. It included nine bands, four mounted brigades and more than 20 floats. It must have been quite a spectacle to see so many women in one place. Back then, many ladies were hesitant to attract attention to themselves.

Helen Keller was one of the marchers and was scheduled to speak after the march. The parade started out beautifully, but crowds started to gather in the street when they should have been kept clear for the women to march.

The crowds consisted mainly of men, and the women marchers endured their jeers and shoving. Even the police, who were supposed to be keeping the crowds at bay, participated in harassing the women.

Despite the mistreatment along the parade, most of the women finished the route. Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was one of the marchers that day.

She was a journalist and wrote for the Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper under the name of Nellie Bly. Her article after the parade was headed “Suffragists are Men’s Superiors.”

The parade in Washington, D.C., that day might have been the true beginning of the women’s rights movement. The United States Senate began hearings of a subcommittee on March 6 —three days later — about the occurrence. It took them until March 17 to decide the District of Columbia’s police superintendent should be replaced.

While we have yet to serve in the highest office in the land, women have attained prominent positions in the government. And to think it took more than seven years after the march on Washington to ratify the 19th Amendment of the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

What a great way to begin the celebration of Women’s History Month. Today we remember the centennial anniversary of the brave women who withstood the derision and abuse of crowds to march for freedom.

Sis Bowman can be reached at eebowman@columbus.rr.com.

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