The Story of the Woman’s Party
by Inez Haynes Gillmore
The most poignant event — and perhaps the most beautiful in all the history of the Congressional Union — took place on Christmas Day of this year, the memorial service in memory of Inez Milholland. Inez Milholland was one of the human sacrifices offered on the altar of woman’s liberty. She died that other women might be free. p 184
That Christmas Day, Statuary Hall in the Capitol of the United States was transformed. The air was full of the smells of the forest. Greens made a background — partially concealing the semi-circle of statues — at the rear; laurel and cedar banked the dais in front; somber velvet curtains fell about its sides. p 185
Every one of the chairs which filled the big central space supported a flag of purple, white, and gold. Between the pillars of the balcony hung a continuous frieze; pennants of purple, white, and gold — the tri-color of these feminist crusaders.
The audience assembled in the solemn quiet proper to such an occasion, noiselessly took their seats in the semi-circle below and the gallery above. The organ played Ave Maria. Then again, a solemn silence fell. Suddenly the stillness was invaded by a sound — music, very faint and faraway. It grew louder and louder. It was the sound of singing. It came nearer and nearer. It was the voices of boys. Presently the beginning of a long line of boy choristers, who had wound through the marble hall way, appeared in the doorway.
They marched into the hall chanting:
Forward, out of error,
Leave behind the night,
Forward through the darkness,
Forward into light.
Have you ever heard of Inez Milholland? What about Martha Wheelock? It’s more likely that Wheelock’s name is familiar. A longtime resident and teacher in the Great Neck Public School District, Wheelock taught English and theater for 18 years in Great Neck North and South high schools and at The Village School.
Inez Milholland, however, is a name that should be well-known, but instead has been erased from most history textbooks. Also known as the “beautiful suffragist,” Milholland was an American icon who worked to get voting rights for women and became the voice of the suffrage movement after she died for the cause in 1916.
Having always been drawn to women’s studies and filmmaking, Wheelock realized at New York University, where she was earning her PhD, that films celebrating women and their accomplishments were notably few and that it was a hole in the past that needed to be filled. Wheelock has since made several documentaries highlighting lesser known—but no less important—women activists and artists, as well as the suffragist movement. She also cofounded and became executive director of Wild West Woman, Inc., a nonprofit that produces films on women in order to provide positive role models for women and girls.
Wheelock has relocated from Great Neck to California and retired from teaching, but has continued to make documentaries, including her latest, Inez Milholland, Forward into Light, which she wrote, produced and directed. It was after learning about how this beautiful suffragist died—and the fact that it has been exactly 100 years since her death—that Wheelock knew she had make this film.
She began researching this incredible woman, but was met with little success; it wasn’t until she found newspaper articles on her western tour in California that details of Milholland’s contributions were discovered.
“She made 50 speeches on the West Coast, and California women could vote against Woodrow because he was against the suffragists,” Wheelock explained. By 1916, California woman had won the right to the vote, but the fight was far from over in many other states. Suffragists like Milholland wanted to urge people to boycott President Woodrow Wilson, who remained steadfast in his stance against women voting.
Wheelock said that during her tour to accomplish this, “these little town [newspapers] put in huge articles about what she looked like, how she was so beautiful. They marketed her like Beyoncé, like this beautiful, incredible woman, [the men] didn’t even care was talking about women and their right to vote.” And so, with the men flocking to see her and their wives tagging along, Milholland’s reputation and mission exploded.
Her worldwide fame reached its peak when, after a long and exhausting tour in which she’d made 50 speeches, Milholland fainted at a podium during a rousing speech. She died a few weeks later of anemia at age 30.
Although a shockingly sad demise, the fight for equality continued without her. But, Milholland’s words were not forgotten. Before she fainted, her last public words were, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” She spoke for the thousands who didn’t have a voice and, even after her death, her words continued—sewn onto the banners of picketers who protested outside The White House for 17 months.
Milholland was extremely radical for her time. She was a “new woman”
in the early 20th century who believed in a women’s right to choose and vote. She even asked a man to marry her, disregarding a tradition that still exists today. “She was a wonderful role model,” Wheelock said warmly. “She lost her American citizenship because she proposed to a Dutchman, she wouldn’t have had the right to vote anyway.” And yet, Milholland still gave her life on behalf of her gender.
Instead of viewing history as a far removed series of facts and dates, Wheelock has noticed that these documentaries make “people begin to believe that history is theirs. [Someone might say], ‘wow, that could’ve been me campaigning for Hillary Clinton,” she continued. “That’s what’s been so exciting about this film, people become amazed, Inez was their own little hero…it’s so touching. After screenings, women come up to me and say, ‘thank you so much for showing me about her.’”
One hundred years after her death, Wheelock’s documentary is more relevant today than ever. It reminds us how important it is to vote, and to remember how many people have struggled and made terrible sacrifices throughout history so that every American would have the right to have a voice.
It would be hard to imagine the vote being more precious than it is today. Of course, the very term, “the vote,” we all know means the national vote. Americans are uplifted or dashed on the rocks every four years with their choices validated. All are casting about in an effort to be counted, to burst through invisibility, to be enfranchised.
Who treasures the vote more, we ask the unanswerable. What is the criteria of such a trophy. Standing in line seems to be one of the most revered demonstrations. Crossing the bridge in Selma, encircling the White House for months, marching, picketing, protesting. Sitting at the counter, lying on the ground, petitioning. But most of all, the ultimate sacrifice is death.
The lady on the white horse. Who is the lady on the white horse? Where did her story end? Inez Milholland died November 25, 1916. She is our St Joan. In 1913, leading 10,000 suffragists to the White House astride Grey Dawn she rode into danger so that women could vote. Known as the “beautiful suffragist, she gave herself over to the National Woman’s Party and to the cause. She could have been noted as the most educated, the most articulate, the most “Modern Woman,” but her value on the speaking trail was demonstrating that women who value the vote can be beautiful too. While on tour, speaking two or three times a day for months, she fell from the podium at Los Angeles Blanchard Hall, was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital and never left. She died 30 days later.
The provenance of the women’s vote, from 1845 to August 26, 1920 began with Quaker women meeting with the Iroquois and ended with a mother’s admonition to her son Harry, “Be a good boy.” Harry Burn delivered that last single whisper that collectively handed women their success. It can be no surprise that it was at the urging of a mother, of a woman whose admonition piled on to Abigail Adams’ rebuke to John, “remember the women.”
In the last decade of American suffrage, leading the charge for the vote was the militant, Alice Paul. She never regarded it as the goal, merely a “stone in the mosaic.” She cautioned that women would not use the vote for their own advancement. They would vote as their husbands or fathers told them, or possibly not at all. It explains her lifelong focus on a constitutional amendment, the ERA, to universally protect all Americans.
This week, we remain in the procession of women who have yet to ascend to full power, to wholly realize what America would look like with a woman at the helm. You can be sure that Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and Inez Milholland dreamed of it too.
submitted by Zoe Nicholson
Illness Ends Campaign Tour
of Inez Milholland Boissevain
Standing room only at Blanchard Hall, Inez spoke passionately. “President Wilson, how long must women wait for liberty? Let me repeat, we are not putting our faith in any man or in any party but in the women voters of the West.” Exhausted, she fell appearing to faint. Helped off the stage, she returned and continued assailing President Wilson and answered a few questions. The crowd had no way of knowing but this would be her last public speech. Spending the night at the Hotel Alexandria, Inez worsened. On the morning of October 24, 1916, she entered Good Samaritan Hospital.
Mrs Alva Belmont sends off Inez to tour the West for federal suffrage. No one can imagine that she will never return from Los Angeles. Falling at the podium, admitted to The Good Samaritan hospital. She dies a month later. November 25, 1916, age 30. We have been given the ultimate iconic woman for everlasting inspiration.
“After Inez’s sacrifice, the women of America continue to work with renewed devotion
to achieve full freedom for all women and full democracy for the Nation.”
A small town creates a big event for a great woman. In so doing, the townsfolk and neighboring denizens discover for themselves, not only their history but, more importantly, find pride and inspiration in their hero. I was invited to Lewis, New York for a celebration of Inez Milholland’s 130th Birthday where I would present my new film, Inez Milholland ~ Forward into Light with a Q & A afterwards. Before the film a local historian would be revealing her research on the history of the Milholland Family in Lewis.
History talks can often turn to recitation of dates, primogeniture and be-gots but this local, curious, authentic researcher of Lewis and Milholland history shared everything she found about the Milhollands, with humor, enthusiasm and rich resources. My understanding of Inez’s background was filled out with real flesh! Instead of a few scattered souls at the Lewis Congregational Church for this event, the church, albeit, small, was filled with an attentive audience.
They loved and cheered the Inez film, and asked good questions. They told me how someone over the past weeks had been coming up to the cemetery where the Milhollands were buried. They had been setting the markers a-straight, weeding and clearing grass from all the stones, and cleaning the gravestones. It must be angels, I remarked seriously!
When I announced that copies of the Inez Film on DVD’s were for FREE, they held their breath: is that really so? Can I really have one to show my grandchildren who grew up here? I want to take one to the 6th grade teacher whose great-grandmother knew Inez’s Mother. What a joy to give out those films!
Then we all, yes all the congregation, adjourned to the big cozy kitchen for Inez’s birthday cake, complete with her portrait, and adorned with a “statuette of a woman on a white horse, with a sash vote for women, which one of the church ladies had made. It was a glorious cake to honor Inez. Another church lady had made 30 cupcakes, with stars on them, to surround the cake. It was a very touching moment and everyone who would admit this, felt the energy of the evening.
The next day, Inez’s actual birthday, August 6, my sister and I first visited Meadowmount, the very large 34 room home that John E. Milholland, Inez’s father, built at the height of his wealth – ostensible to give poor children from the inner cities , a summer place to retreat among animals and healthful country living. John ‘s intentions were not realized actually, as he lost his wealth carelessly, and the family then lived both in London and New York much more modestly, within John’s newspaper salary.
Today the buildings are the MEADOWMOUNT SCHOOL OF MUSIC, one of the finest and intense practicum for strings and piano. There studied and taught such teachers as Jascha Heifetz, Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Paul Zukofsky and hundred others. It is still such an esteemed school.
There I met Mary Macgowan, a director and another fine local historian who shared more Milholland history with me. A wider and deeper picture of what forces helped to form Inez’s ethics and energy emerged more than any biography I had read.
The most moving visit during that trip was to meditate and absorb Inez at her actual grave. The cemetery plot, which previously had been mysteriously cleaned and cleared, had indeed been manicured, but by arrangements from John A Milholland, Inez great nephew, whose father was descendent of John A, Inez’s brother, the only child to produce progeny.
The red rose I placed on Inez’s grave was in keeping with the how she was viewed as a great American Beauty. When her coffin arrived from Los Angeles, into the town of Lewis for burial, her father had adorned it with 2 dozen red roses.
Inez had a younger sister (also buried there), Vida, who traveled with Inez and carried on Suffrage work after Inez’s death. In fact Vida was arrested and went on a hunger strike in 1917, following in her sister’s spirit.
Vida never married but lived the last 30 years of her life with a woman companion, caring for her mother in one of their residence They were always plagued with financial worries and she committed suicide in 1952. The whole family was rested on the top of the hill, looking out over the meadows toward the great Green Mountains of Vermont, across Lake Champlain. What a beautiful spot.
The Friday event extended beyond the folks of Lewis. As we covered three counties, giving away the DVD to libraries, historical museums, even hotels and civic centers in Essex and Clinton Counties, Plattsburgh and Elizabethtown, great appreciation was express by those who received this FREE DVD. The recipients felt honored as all we met knew Inez’s name and were familiar with her short life’s story. They treasured the fact that she was a local girl, who did more than just ride a white horse and die at age 30 from working too hard on the campaign for Women’s Suffrage. She was their Hero.
The official movie poster is here.
Perfect for your office and classroom.
Shipped USPS Priority tube
size: 18″ x 24″
To order, click poster in right column
Inez Milholland lived and died to tell us that
it is not winning the vote but
CASTING THE VOTE
“I am prepared to sacrifice every so-called privilege
possess in order to have a few rights.”
Inez Milholland 1886 – 1916
12th Annual Vassar Club of Washington, DC FilmFest
Location: Naval Heritage Center
701 Pennsylvania Avenue
2:45 pm on Saturday, Oct 15
Information and Tickets
INEZ MILHOLLAND: FORWARD INTO LIGHT Joan E. Smiles ‘65
Inez Milholland, Vassar Class of 1909, was a famous horsewoman and an advocate for gender equality, pacifism, racial justice, labor, and women’s suffrage, who died far too young at age 30.