Monday, December 31, 2012
Inez Milholland: Beautiful Suffragist on a White Charger
CHRONICLES OF CROTON'S BOHEMIA
Wilson's inauguration was scheduled for March 4, 1913. Suffrage
leader Alice Paul decided to upstage the event with "a procession for
women's suffrage" the day before his swearing in. When he arrived at on March 3rd from his home
in Washington ,
no crowd was waiting at Union Station to greet him. , Princeton N.J.
On March 3, 1913, a statuesque woman clad in a flowing white cape and riding a white horse was the leader of a giant women's suffrage parade down
She carried a streaming banner reading, "Forward into light."
Not quite 27 years old, Inez Milholland already had an impressive record of accomplishments.
She was a record-setting athlete in college, an attorney specializing in workers’ problems, and a forceful and charismatic speaker. A fighter for labor, she had been jailed as a suffragette in
After inventing a successful pneumatic tube system for city mail delivery adopted in the
and United States Europe,
her father, John E. Milholland, became wealthy. In 1905, he created the
Constitution League, a virtual one-man organization to fight the new “Jim Crow”
laws in the South that made racial segregation legal.
His organization’s combative tactics in the courts and the press became the model for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He became the NAACP’s first treasurer. Her mother wrote a column, "Talks about Women," for The Crisis, the NAACP periodical.
Inez Milholland was born in
on August 6, 1886. She grew up in Brooklyn and in , Brooklyn N.Y. Lewis, N.Y.,
a small Adirondack village west of Lake Champlain,
where the family had a sprawling estate.
In 1905, she entered
Vassar in College Poughkeepsie,
where she captained the field hockey team and held forbidden suffrage meetings.
As a member of the track team, she set women's collegiate records in the shot
put and basketball throw. A week after graduating in 1909 she sailed for with
her father. England
Inez applied to law schools at and Oxford and at Harvard, Yale and Cambridge in the Columbia Despite
her high grades, the all-male institutions refused her. Inez enrolled at U.S. New
York University's ,
which was encouraging applications by women. of School Law
During the 1912 presidential campaign, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican running on the Progressive ticket, split the Republican vote and guaranteed victory to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
"Where is everybody?" the surprised president-elect asked.
"They're all over at the suffrage parade on
In spite of its meticulous planning and precise execution, the orderly parade of five thousand women turned into a near riot. Male spectators jeered and shoved the marchers. Spitting on them and pelting them with burning cigar butts, the rowdy crowd's behavior made the event a national news story. Standing idly by, the police seemed almost indifferent, and the situation quickly became chaotic.
Responding to a frantic appeal from
chief of police, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson ordered the Fifteenth
Cavalry to be summoned from Fort across the Myer Potomac.
Troopers charged up the crowded avenue to clear it for the suffragists. The
melee was an inauspicious start for an administration whose campaign had
promised a reformist program called the New Freedom. A newspaper
headline read, "Capital Mobs Make Converts to Suffrage." New
In her busy life, Inez cut a wide swath through eager suitors. She had a brief platonic affair with Max Eastman until they both realized that their intense personalities clashed. They parted amicably.
Her name was also linked romantically with that of Guglielmo Marconi, Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy. He regularly lost his heart to beautiful young women. She called him “Billy.”
En route to
May of 1913, she met and fell in love with 33-year-old Eugen Boissevain, an
avowed suffragist. He was from a well-known Dutch family of French Huguenots
who had emigrated to the England Netherlands.
Their wedding in in July
surprised their families and friends. Boissevin would make a small fortune
during the war as a coffee importer, London
When the couple returned to the
they moved into the house in Harmon built by opera diva Lillian Nordica. The
house still stands on Alexander
Lane, a short street
opposite the Croton Free Library.
The Peace Ship
Late in 1915, Inez became a delegate on Henry Ford's "peace ship," the Oscar II of the Scandinavian-American Line, chartered by the automaker in a vain attempt to bring the warring nations of
to the bargaining table. Europe
Thomas Edison, John Wanamaker and Walter Lippmann all declined Ford’s invitation. Women active on behalf of suffrage, Anna Howard Shaw, Helen Keller, Crystal Eastman and Jane Addams, similarly turned down Ford’s offer of free passage. Even Clara Ford, the magnate’s wife, refused to go.
Inez Mulholland accepted, saying, “The expedition may fail, but the world has been the better for gallant failures.” Some 160 Americans made up the passenger list, one third of them members of the press, including future ambassador William Christian Bullitt, representing the Philadelphia Ledger.
Conflict arose even before the ship reached
Inez quit the party in and traveled home after a
detour to Stockholm Berlin,
where she charmed the German foreign minister.
A Fateful Campaign
reelection in 1916, he remained lukewarm about giving the vote to women.
Democratic states in the "solid South" were opposed to the idea, and
he didn't want to risk losing their support. Wilson
The tall, beautiful Amazon set out on a speaking tour of western states urging voters to reject him for failing to support the vote for women. After leaving
on October 4, she was to
speak in 43 different cities in New York Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nevada, California, and Kansas Illinois--all
in less than a month. But Inez Milholland’s health was not good. Constantly
tired, she insisted on adhering to her grueling schedule.
At a rally in
October 23rd she collapsed on the platform. Her last words uttered in public
were a cry from the heart: "President Wilson, how long must this go
on?” Taken to her hotel, she was discovered to have infections of her
tonsils and teeth. Los
Admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital later that day, her condition was diagnosed by specialists as aplastic anemia, a serious disease in which the body is unable to make red blood cells. The only remedy is repeated blood transfusions. Despite four transfusions the prognosis for Inez was not good.
In his 1948 memoir Enjoyment of Living, Max Eastman recounted a touching deathbed scene. Her distraught husband was at her bedside. As the flame of life flickered within her, Eugen Boissevain asked, "Shall I come with you?"
Inez knew exactly what his oblique question implied. "No," she whispered weakly, "you go on and live another life."
Inez Milholland died at 10:55 p.m. on November 25, 1916, at the age of 30. The women's suffrage movement had lost a powerful voice, but it now had a martyr. Her father accompanied her coffin from
to the California for burial. Adirondacks
On learning of her death, Carl Sandburg wrote a poem. It read:
They are crying salt tears
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.
On Christmas Day in 1916, Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party held the first memorial service in the Capitol. Statuary Hall was decorated with pennants of purple, white and gold, the Party's colors. Mabel Younger, a suffragist from
was selected as keynote speaker.
When Younger protested she was unequal to the task, the indomitable Paul responded, “Nonsense. Just write something like
Less eloquent than
Younger moved listeners with her vivid description of Milholland: “She went
into battle, a laugh on her lips. Obstacles inspired her, discouragement urged
her on. She loved work and she loved battle. She loved life and laughter and
light, and above all else, she loved liberty.” Lincoln
Eight years later, in August of 1924, the National Women’s Party held its convention in the
North Country. Ten thousand persons turned out in the small town of Lewis,
N.Y. to honor the courageous fighter who did not live to see the women’s vote
amendment become a reality.
Inez Milholland’s grave lies atop a quiet knoll in the cemetery next to the Congregational church in Lewis. Almost a century after her death, few know where her grave is. Even fewer visit it these days.