Suffrage parade, women march to win their right to vote in New York City, May 6, 1912
Citation: Suffrage parade, women march to win their right to vote in New York City, May 6, 1912 Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-5585
Rights Holder: Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-5585
Engage! Theme: Participation
This photograph depicts women marching in New York City in May 1912 for the right to vote—a campaign known as the suffrage movement. The parade was one was one of many around the country leading up to the final approval and 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. American women had been organizing and appealing to lawmakers for voting rights since the mid-nineteenth century.
The women are all dressed in white and carry pennants that bear the phrase “Votes for Women” and feature a series of stars. It is likely that the pennants were gold with nine stars. Gold had been the recognized color of the women’s suffrage movement since the post-Civil War years, and the imagery (in flags, pins, and broadsides) of the suffrage movement in 1912 often included nine stars, for the nine states that had already granted voting rights to women.
The women’s white attire is related both to the overall color scheme used by the suffrage movement—purple, white, and gold, with white suggesting purity—and to the iconic, classically dressed female goddess who heralds the dawning of a new day with women’s right to vote. This type of figure had been a familiar one in American culture since the Revolution, representing everything from America itself to freedom, democracy, justice, liberty, and other civic virtues.
The overall scene is restrained. The parade participants, with their children in tow, march peacefully, even chatting with each other as they walk. Similarly, the brief glimpse of the crowd gathered on the curb alongside the parade route shows that a calm demeanor prevailed. However, there were instances when suffrage parades were not received so civilly—most notably, a parade in Washington, D.C., in March 1913.
The inclusion of children in the parade was more than a sign of the civility of the event. It served as a call to uncommitted mothers, as well a reminder of one of the main political positions of the movement: that, as nurturing mothers and homemakers, women were inherently “social housekeepers” and needed the vote to fulfill that role in the larger society.
Spend a minute looking at this group of women participating in a march for the right to vote. What do you notice about them as a group? How do they visually identify themselves as a group?
Now, focus in on a few of the individuals. In what ways are they individualized?
Let’s think about how civic participation works. When you think about participation in something, is it as an individual or as part of a group? Why? Give some examples from your life experience..
Based on the women’s appearance and actions, to whom do you think they are sending their message? Is it the crowd gathered on the curb or someone else? Why?
Taking a photograph of this event and printing it in newspapers or other media spread the ideals and symbolic imagery of the suffrage movement widely in American culture. Why do you think the photographer chose to capture this moment for such a purpose?
Further Discussion Questions and Activity Ideas:
The act of marching in a parade is symbolic of the suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. The earliest suffrage parade was in California in 1906. Suffragists had been inspired by the political parades of nineteenth-century presidential campaigns and adopted the practice to serve their social and political goals. How does marching work as a form of civic participation? What cause would you march for? How would you visually communicate your beliefs?
Do further research about the suffrage movement using the resources listed above. Working in small teams, create a dialogue between the two women at the front left of this photograph. What might they be saying to each other about suffrage? Why is suffrage important to them as individuals? Why are they choosing to participate in a march? Use your research and the evidence in the photograph to write the dialogue. If time permits, each team should perform its dialogue for the rest of the group, with time for discussion afterward.
National Women’s History Museum online exhibit, “Motherhood, Social Service, and Political Reform: Political Culture and Imagery of American Woman Suffrage”.
Library of Congress: Women’s Suffrage Primary Source Set for Teachers.
Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, N.Y.