Women's suffragists parade in New York City in 1917, carrying placards with the signatures of more than a million women (The New York Times Photo Archive via Wikimedia Commons)
Women's suffragists parade in New York City in 1917, carrying placards with the signatures of more than a million women (The New York Times Photo Archive via Wikimedia Commons)

This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.

In pre-pandemic times — the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 — African American women were as determined as anyone else to be a part of the suffrage movement and to fight for the rights of individuals of color.

African Americans such as Charlotte Forten Grimke, Angelina Weld Grimke, Gertrude Bustill Mossell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett were instrumental in one of the biggest days in the history of the movement.

On May 2, 1914, American women from all across the country participated in a well-coordinated set of suffrage parades and meetings.

A visit to Washington, D.C., was planned for the following week, so that the various groups could present to Congress their petitions in support of a federal suffrage amendment, according to Boston1950.blogspot.

Beantown was the location for one of the largest parades — and the first suffrage parade that had ever been held in Massachusetts. Various estimates put the number of marchers at somewhere between 9,000 and 15,000, and the number of spectators at 200,000 to 300,000, according to the history blog.

The crowd had been building all day — pouring into the city on trolleys and trains, carrying blankets and picnic lunches and camping out on Back Bay doorsteps and on the Common until they took up their places all along the parade route by 4 p.m.

In Illinois, women and men took to the Chicago streets to parade in support of woman’s suffrage. The Illinois Equal Suffrage Association organized the parade under Grace Wilbur Trout’s presidency. The parade highlighted the national suffrage movement and coincided with other state suffrage organizations’ actions, according to Suffrage2020Illionois.org.

Even though women had already won the right to vote for some offices in Illinois in 1913, Illinois suffragists continued their fight for full suffrage within their own state as well as for national suffrage.

The parade was a chance to celebrate voting in Illinois, to encourage women to exercise their newly won rights and register to vote, and to call for activism in support of full national suffrage.
In Minneapolis, women displayed Scandinavian costumes and flags in the parade there that drew 2,000 participants, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Perhaps no suffrage parade displayed the grit and determination more than the one held in Pittsburgh.

Often excluded from suffrage events in other cities, African American suffragists participated with their white counterparts in, at least, some Pittsburgh activities, according to the old Pittsburgh Post.

As published in many of the city’s newspapers of the time, the Suffrage Parade line up was integrated. The event included “notable Caucasian women,” African American women, and men.

“Race, creed, and social standing were eliminated in the common cause,” the Post noted.

The parade began in downtown Pittsburgh, proceeded to Schenley Park and returned downtown to conclude at the Jenkins Arcade.

Following the “notable women” were 10 girls dressed in white with yellow sashes, representing the nation’s only 10 states that had already passed suffrage.

“Representing their local organizations, as well as the National Association of Colored Women, many of Pittsburgh’s prominent African American women filled the center of the parade,” the ACLU noted.

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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