For all their pageantry, the 1913 parade marchers were heckled and jeered mostly by men, large numbers of whom were in town for Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration the next day.
“You can’t win against misogynist men, but you can help a movement have courage in the face of all that,” says Kathryn Kish Sklar, who specializes in the history of women’s social movements at the State University of New York at Binghamton. That was a large part of what Milholland gave to the cause.
The other part was her life.
Milholland frequently traveled for speaking engagements and activist events. She suffered from pernicious anemia but wouldn’t curtail her travel, despite the pleas of her family. In 1916, she collapsed in the middle of a women’s rights speech in Los Angeles and died a month later. She was 30 years old. Reportedly, her last words were “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” Poems have been written about Milholland, and Julia Ormond played her in the 2004 television movie about Alice Paul and the founding of the National Women’s Party, “Iron Jawed Angels.”
The notion of those largely forgotten by history also strikes a chord with Sunday’s march organizers. Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., says when organizers saw historical pictures from the 1913 march, they were immediately drawn to Milholland on horseback.
“That’s how we found out about her role in the march,” Butler-McIntyre says. There was some conversation “about doing the horse,” she says, but “you have to come back to reality and stick to the true purpose of the message now.” The Deltas had been incorporated at Howard University two months before the 1913 march, and its 22 founders were among the few groups of African Americans who participated.
Gwendolyn Boyd, chairwoman of the Deltas’ Centennial Celebrations, says the Deltas can identify with Milholland, because in descriptions of the original march, the sorority’s participation is often overlooked. “We understand how we have to continue to speak up so that our place in history is not lost or forgotten or misplaced.”
●The Delta Centennial Suffrage March opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. Sunday on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn. Marchers will head down Pennsylvania Avenue at 10 a.m. and end with a rally at noon at the Washington Monument.
●Citywide Suffrage Centennial activities kick off Thursday at the National Press Club and include exhibitions, demonstrations and movie screenings. More information is available at suffrage-centennial.org.