One hundred years ago, some 8,000 individuals marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. for the right for women to vote. Recently, on a cold, wintry day, several students from AACC’s Gender Studies program got a small taste of what the Women’s Suffrage Parade in 1913 might have been like when they went on a field trip to a 100th anniversary reenactment.
Heather Rellihan, associate professor and coordinator of gender and sexuality studies, said they wanted students to gain a sense of how important the parade was in women's history and in the history of democracy.
“This is particularly important because most students learn very little about the Suffrage Movement in high school,” she said. “Because the 19th amendment gave 50 percent of the population the right to vote, I believe this is an extremely important moment in American history and one that deserves much more emphasis than it gets.”
The momentum from the parade, which marked the beginning of the last stage of the Suffrage Movement, didn't end until 1920 when women finally earned the right to vote. It took 72 years of active lobbying to get that right which, according to Rellihan, demonstrated how many people were against it – more than 100 women went to the hospital for their injuries which raised public sympathy for the movement.
“The 1913 parade erupted into violence when onlookers stormed the parade and began physically assaulting the women marchers. For our students, the idea that anyone would deny women the right to vote seems pretty hard to imagine, so it's important to help them understand the real anger that women's suffrage caused and the devoted and tireless lobbying that was needed to overcome that anger. The parade was a great example of this.”
Rellihan hopes by seeing the number of people who marched in the reenactment and their passion for women's history will inspire the students to be active in whatever political struggles are important to them.
Student Eir Rovira Holmfridardott, 24, felt it was very important to be there because of the significant role the Suffrage Movement played in history.
“You could totally feel the energy,” Holmfridardott said. “Even though our limbs were falling off from the cold, I wouldn’t have changed anything. Just to think a hundred years ago we couldn’t vote. And that the same women we learned about had walked down that same street and gotten the living crap beaten out of them for their right to vote! Shivers!”
Rellihan especially wanted to show the students that fighting for what you believe in is an important part of our democracy. They also went to the American History Museum to see the Women's Suffrage Movement exhibit where they could see artifacts from the time, including some of the banners and slogans the suffragists used.
“The information that students learn in textbooks and classroom lectures is very important, but giving them an opportunity to attend marches or view museum exhibits really makes this history come alive,” Rellihan said.