When 8,000 women marched in Washington on March 3rd 1913, they turned a moderate movement into a full-scale revolution for change. Seven years later in 1920 the 19th Constitutional Amendment guaranteed suffrage for America’s women.
But was the march such a positive experience for everyone concerned?
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an outspoken, African American journalist, famous for leading an anti-lynching campaign at the turn of the century. Ida Bell Wells-Barnett founded the Alpha Suffrage Club in January 1913. Here, she and her co-founder, the white activist Belle Squire, campaigned for the vote for African American women in Chicago.
However when Ida Bell Wells-Barnett and her followers traveled to Washington for the march of 1913, they were met with an unexpected choice: march at the back or not at all.
The request was a deeply political and sadly strategic one.
To get the Constitutional Amendment for women’s suffrage passed would not be easy. Not only would the amendment need to achieve a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, but it would also need to be ratified by two thirds of state legislatures.
Opposition to women’s suffrage was compounded in the Southern states as legislators predicted this would increase the number of black voters on the roll. Wanting to limit opposition in the South, the parade organizers faced a difficult decision, culminating in the segregation of the march.
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett tried unsuccessfully to lobby support from the white Illinois delegation, and initially she refused to take part in the march.
Suddenly half way through, she gallantly emerged from the crowd to take her place at the front with the Illinois delegation, marching between two white supporters.
For Ida Bell Wells-Barnett the suffrage parade of 1913 was just another opportunity to live by her motto: “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”