Two important moments in National Woman’s Party (NWP) history took place in Chicago in the early years of its existence, in addition to its founding in the city. This was partly because Illinois had given its women the right to vote on a select group of elections, including presidential elections, in 1913. With its large population, Illinois women could greatly influence the outcome of elections, including the Presidency, and the NWP wanted to encourage women’s involvement and use of this new-found power.
The first connection of the National Woman’s Party to Chicago is through the story of Inez Milholland. Milholland was a suffragist, labor lawyer, and prominent member and spokesperson for the NWP. She was the face of the 1913 Washington D.C. suffrage parade, riding her white horse at the front of the marchers.
In June 1916, Milholland was in Chicago for the founding of the NWP, in conjunction with the Republican National Convention, and was part of meetings at the NWP headquarters that was located in the Stevens Building in downtown Chicago. She gave a speech at the convention when the party was organized. A suffrage parade, with over 5000 women marching in the rain, was also held in conjunction with the convention – more here.
Milholland was back in Chicago in October for meetings and a protest held during a campaign stop for Republican candidate Woodrow Wilson (see below). From Chicago, she was to head out on a campaign in the west to encourage the involvement of women voters in the 1916 presidential election. She was to give a speech at a street rally in Chicago, but she canceled it due to illness. Milholland suffered from pernicious anemia and had kept up a gruelling schedule in her suffrage work.
Milholland stayed at the Blackstone Hotel and had dinner with her sister Vida and her Father (who was in town on business). The next day, both she and Vida boarded a train for Wyoming and started on the tour, which was to include 50 speeches in 11 states in 30 days. She was originally supposed to end the tour back in Chicago to give a speech the night before the election. But, she collapsed on stage in Los Angeles and was taken to the hospital where she died thirty days later. Milholland’s death at the age of 30 sealed her image as a martyr for the suffrage cause.
The second connection of the NWP to Chicago was that the city was the site of the first Silent Sentinel protests. Alice Paul and one hundred NWP supporters staged this protest in October 1916 at a campaign rally for candidate Wilson. The protestors stood silently in the back of the rally and on the streets with banners reading “Mr. President, How Long Do You Advise Us to Wait?” and “Vote Against Wilson – He Opposes National Woman Suffrage.” Spectators grabbed their signs and tore them to pieces. Several protestors were injured while police officers stood by and looked on.
This was a trial run for a protest tactic that Paul and the NWP would perfect once Wilson had become President and inhabited the White House. The Silent Sentinels would become famous for standing at the White House gates, demanding that Wilson listen and respond to their plea for the right to vote. Their imprisonment, hunger strikes, and inhumane treatment while imprisoned, including forced feeding, would convince many Americans of the desperate situation women endured due to their lack of citizenship rights.
“FIFTY-FIFTY: MRS. BOISSEVAIN WANTS ALL HUSBANDS TO BE FORCED BY LAW TO DIVIDE SALARY WITH WIVES. WANTS LAW TO FORCE HUSBANDS TO DIVIDE CASH MRS. INEZ MILHOLLAND BOISSEVAIN WARNS WIVES NOT TO BE “CLINGING VINES.” FIFTY-FIFTY MARRIED LIFE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 06, 1916.
The Suffragist, 4, no. 43 (Oct. 21, 1916): cover story. Records of the National Woman’s Party, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=partof:records+of+the+national+woman%27s+party
The Suffragist, 5, no. 54 (Jan. 10, 1917): 8. Records of the National Woman’s Party, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=partof:records+of+the+national+woman%27s+party
“Icon: Inez Milholland,” in online exhibit Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/selected-leaders-of-the-national-womans-party/icon/
Inez Milholland. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/people/inez-milholland.htm
Inez Milholland – Forward Into Light (film). http://inezmilholland.org
National Woman’s Party – Historical Overview. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/historical-overview-of-the-national-womans-party/