By Anne Haule/ Originally posted at Women’s Museum of California Blog
Imagine Gloria Steinem, Coretta Scott King, Dolores Huerta, Betty Friedan, Billie Jean King and Malala Yousafzai all rolled into one amazing social justice activist.
Imagine a woman who made a difference in the suffrage movement, the labor movement, the racial equality movement, women’s education, and court reform.
Imagine a privileged and brilliant beauty who was a gifted speaker, writer, and athlete.
Imagine a women who defied the conventions of her time in most all ways including proposing to her husband and being a proponent of the free love movement.
Welcome to the world of INEZ MILHOLLAND – the 27-year-old woman, dressed in a white cape and crown atop a white steed, who led the Suffrage March of 1913 in Washington, D. C. on the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson.
“Not to know what things in life require remedying is a crime . . .it leaves you at the mercy of events – it lets life manipulate you – instead of teaching you to manipulatelife” was her mantra and the way she lived her short life.
Inez was born in 1886 to a privileged family in New York with a second home in London. She attended a private girls high school in London – a school known for its “classless” admission policy – allowing the daughters of merchants to study next to and rub shoulders with the daughters of the gentry. It is speculated that this experience led to her belief that all people were equal and should be treated as such.
When studying in London, Inez met and worked with Emmeline Pankhurst – a militant suffragette leader whose protests were heard on both sides of the Atlantic. Pankhurst influenced Inez to use her writing and speaking skills to encourage American women to become more vocal in their suffrage movement.
By the time she entered Vassar, Inez was well on her way to becoming a leader. She was very active on campus – she participated in the Current Topics Club, the Socialists Club, the German Club, the debating team and theatrical productions. She was class president in her junior year. She also loved athletics and played basketball, tennis, golf and field hockey. She won the college cup for best all around athlete. She was described as an active and unconventional student who was always looking for ways to improve things.
As her education advanced, Inez became a vocal and effective activist. However, she faced opposition from the president of Vassar – a man named James Taylor Monroe who banned all discussion of suffrage on campus and who also banned Jane Addams from speaking on campus notwithstanding that she was allowed to speak at other prestigious women’s colleges. He was of the opinion that Vassar was for education but it should not be a forum for social change. Undeterred, Inez organized suffrage meetings and actions off (and on) campus resulting in a temporary suspension.
After graduating from Vassar, Inez applied to Harvard, Yale and Columbia law schools. All three rejected her because she was a woman. Subsequently she was accepted at New York University School of Law where she graduated with a law degree in 1912 and then began working as a lawyer focusing on criminal and divorce cases.
Her advocacy was broad reaching and included criminal justice/ youth workhouse reform, racial equality, women’s rights and labor reform. She was an early member of the NAACP and sailed on Henry Ford’s Peace ship – an attempt to mediate an early end to WWI.
On the personal side, she was quite a character. She enjoyed shopping and wearing new styles and designer clothes. She learned “modern” dance moves such as the Turkey Trot.
Not a shrinking violet, she was aggressive in her romantic relationships – proposing to the man who would become her husband after a month long whirl-wind courtship aboard an ocean liner on her way to London. Not a conformist, she and her husband joined the “free love” movement popularized by Victoria Woodhull – a suffragette who later ran for president.
Upon returning to the states after her time aboard the Peace Ship, Inez continued her suffrage work – giving speeches and writing essays and editorials. It was during a speech in Los Angeles in 1915 that she collapsed on stage. Two weeks later she died in the hospital from pernicious anemia – a disease considered incurable until the early1920s when it was discovered to be an iron deficiency.
Let’s go back to imagining . . . with all that she accomplished in little over 10 years of activism, just imagine the extent of her legacy had Inez Milholland lived a normal life span instead of being snuffed out so early . . . “like a candle in the wind”.
Wednesday, August 24th, the Women’s Museum of California will be hosting a suffrage parade through Balboa Park. Learn more about the event here.
Can’t make it to the parade? Join us on social media, tell us why women’s history is important to you using #WomensHistoryBecause