In late 1912, the American movement for women's suffrage was facing a frustrating lack of progress at the national level.
At the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Alice Paul (who had survived imprisonment and force-feeding while fighting for British women's suffrage) and Lucy Burns proposed an audacious publicity action: a massive march on Washington to coincide with Woodrow Wilson's presidential inauguration.
Their proposal was approved, and they set about organizing and fundraising for the march, which was set for March 3, 1913.
On February 12, a small band of suffragettes, bundled against the cold, assembled in New York and set out on foot for a "suffrage hike" to Washington, aiming to reach the capital in time for the main march.
They were led by "General" Rosalie Jones, a prominent activist who had led a march to Albany just a couple months earlier.
See photos and news coverage of the bold move:
In addition to suffragist literature which they handed out to curious onlookers along their route, the "suffrage pilgrims" carried a letter to the President-elect, demanding that he make suffrage a priority of his administration and warning that the women of the nation would be watching "with an intense interest such as has never before been focused upon the administration of any of your predecessors."
This is the most conspicuous and important demonstration that has ever been attempted by suffragists in this country.... This parade will be taken to indicate the importance of the suffrage movement by the press of the country and the thousands of spectators from all over the United States gathered in Washington for the Inauguration.
The procession made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol, with the Treasury as its destination, passing buildings festooned with bunting and decorations for the next day's inauguration.
After a few blocks, the surrounding crowds spilled into the street, blocking the way. As the marchers struggled through, sometimes in single file, they were heckled, tripped, shoved and showered with abuse.
The police were hardly helpful. Some even joined in the harassment. Ambulances had to squeeze through the masses to reach injured marchers. A hundred women were hospitalized.
Still, many managed to complete the procession. The event concluded with an allegorical tableau on the steps of the Treasury Building, featuring women dressed in flowing costumes as Columbia, Justice, Charity, Liberty, Peace and Hope.
The mistreatment of the marchers at the hands of the mob and police was widely witnessed and provoked an outcry. Congressional hearings were held, the superintendent of police was fired and the marchers' cause gained wider visibility and support — on March 8, the Women's Journal triumphantly declared, "Nation Aroused by Open Insults to Women — Cause Wins Popular Sympathy."
The event provided a shot in the arm to the suffrage movement, but it would take another seven years of tireless and painful activism before the 19th Amendment was finally passed and ratified.