Equal Say

A photographic essay of how women won the vote

On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, thousands of women paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., demanding their right to vote. More than 60 years had already passed since Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had gathered some 300 women in Seneca Falls, New York, to launch the women's suffrage movement, and many women had grown impatient. Underwood & Underwood / Library of Congress
Alice Paul, here sewing a suffrage flag, was a Quaker girl from New Jersey who graduated from Swarthmore College and obtained an advanced degree from the University of Pennsylvania. While in England, she joined the militant branch of the British suffrage movement and was repeatedly arrested. While imprisoned, she went on a hunger strike. When Paul returned to the United States, the American suffrage leaders appointed her chairman of the Congressional committee, and she quickly began organizing the 1913 march in Washington, D.C. National Photo Company Collection / Library of Congress
Along with Paul, members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) spent two months generating support and funds for the march. The event cost almost $15,000, an enormous sum at the time. The procession's 20-page official program (above) cost more than $1,000 to produce. Library of Congress
Dressed as a Greek goddess astride a white horse, lawyer Inez Milholland Boissevain led the Washington, D.C. parade. More than 20 floats and 5,000 marchers followed her lead. When onlookers began harassing suffragists, police refused to intervene. The mistreatment eventually led to congressional hearings and the ousting of the superintendent of police. George Grantham Bain Collection / Library of Congress
Dressed as "Liberty," Florence F. Noyes, was among 100 women and children who performed an allegorical scene in front of the Treasury building during the march. George Grantham Bain Collection / Library of Congress
Woman's Journal and Suffrage News, a weekly newspaper founded by Lucy Stone in 1870, reported on the parade and the "disgraceful scenes" that surrounded it. One hundred marchers had to be taken to the hospital. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection / Library of Congress
On October 23, 1915, tens of thousands of women once again took to the streets—this time in New York—to march for suffrage. George Grantham Bain Collection / Library of Congress
Frustrated with the lack of progress, Paul and her supporters decided to make their cause even more visible in January 1917. Every day (except Sunday) for 18 months, suffragists picketed the White House, an unusual action for anyone at the time, especially for women. George Grantham Bain Collection / Library of Congress
At first, the women who had been deemed the "Silent Sentinels" amused the President who often tipped his hat at them as he left the grounds. But as the country drew closer to involvement in World War I, he felt the picket signs—many manipulating his own words about democracy—were an affront to the war effort. The authorities soon arrested the women. National Photo Company Collection / Library of Congress
Officials sent more than 200 suffragists to jail over several months but usually for only a few days at a time. These arrests only seemed to strengthen the picketers' resolve. Police finally picked up several suffrage leaders, including Paul who was sentenced to seven months in Virginia's Occoquan Workhouse. Determined to be treated as political prisoners, the suffragists refused to work and instituted a hunger strike. The authorities kept the women in rat-infested cells, offered them worm-ridden food, and locked some of them in solitary confinement. News of the beating and force-feeding hit the media, enraging the outside world. The suffrage movement was now a household topic of conversation, and President Wilson could no longer ignore it. George Grantham Bain Collection / Library of Congress
Congress finally passed the suffrage amendment in January 1918, but the Senate and the states took more than two years to approve it. In August 1920, a young Tennessee representative cast the deciding vote—at the urging of his mother—and ratified the amendment, thereby enfranchising half of the U.S. population. After a 72-year struggle, women had finally won the right to vote. National Photo Company Collection / Library of Congress

Pictures tell the story in this collection of photos of the women's suffrage movement.

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