Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Horses and Parades and Women’s Lib, Oh My! Part Two

“…[galloping on horseback] is the essence of freedom—
…It is a great elixir for the soul.”
Suzannah Daniels, author

The struggle for women’s right to vote is usually described as a series of parades and rallies. But there were other ways women challenged the accepted customs of the times, resulting in slow yet steady progress towards women’s right to control her life and lifestyle. Sometimes these actions intersected.

Part One of Horses and Parades andWomen’s Lib, Oh My! told the story of one woman’s courage to defy the norms of high society.

Emily Ladenburg wore comfortable riding attire in public. This may seem a trivial matter today, but was an influential, symbolic action in the struggle for women’s lib.

As the 20th century dawned and an increasing number of women participated in recreational and other formerly male-dominated activities, barriers lowered and some disappeared.

Women riding enthusiasts began resisting tradition requiring respectable women to ride sidesaddle, preferring active riding astride their horses, requiring comfortable clothing.

The intersection of women on horseback and the women’s suffrage movement occurred during a seminal event one hundred years ago.

In March 1913 a 27-year-old activist by the name of Inez Milholland mounted a white steed and led a suffrage parade on the eve of the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Dressed in white Joan of Arc-inspired attire, the parade began at the Capitol building in Washington, D. C. and marched across the city to the Treasury Building. The parade included over 8,000 marchers, some on horseback, ten bands and 26 floats.

Inez Milholland at the 1913 Washington, D.C. women's suffrage march.
One of the floats in the parade.

Inez and those parading close to her soon found themselves in the midst of a jeering crowd, heckled and attacked by throngs of men in the middle of the street. City police had not effectively cleared the roadway and the U.S. Cavalry raced to the marchers' rescue. Over 200 attackers and suffragettes were taken to local hospitals, but Inez reached her destination. 

Inez attended Vassar College, organizing women’s rights groups on campus. Oxford and Cambridge law schools denied her admittance because of her gender. She attended New York University Law School and  joined a New York City law firm. She worked for a number of causes during her lifetime, among them women’s rights and equal rights for blacks.

A couple of weeks after the Washington D.C. parade Inez led 10,000 people in a peaceful suffragette march, witnessed by 150,000, in New York City. She toured the country making speeches advocating women’s suffrage. In 1916 Inez collapsed during a speech and died at the age of 30 of pernicious anemia.

One of the ultimate tributes anyone can receive is a poem commemorating their life’s work. Both Carl Sandburg and Edna St. Vincent Millay (who married Inez’s husband following her death) wrote poems about this extraordinary woman.

Carl Sandburg’s poem
THEY are crying salt tears
Over the beautiful beloved body
Of Inez Milholland,
Because they are glad she lived,
Because she loved open-armed,
Throwing love for a cheap thing
Belonging to everybody-
Cheap as sunlight,
And morning air.

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem
To Inez Milholland
Millay’s poem was read in Washington, D.C. on November 18th, 1923, at the unveiling of a statue of three leaders in the cause of Equal Rights for Women.

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more; -
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.
“Horses change lives...They provide peace and tranquility 
to troubled souls, they give us hope.”
Toni Robinson, author

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful, fantastic woman she was. And she made a difference during her very short life. Thank you for the tribute and the poems, which are incredible.