Women Have Been Voting Ever Since

by Robert F. Hall | History

Throughout 2019, in celebration of Adirondack Life‘s 50th anniversary, we’re sharing an article per week from our archives—one for each year since 1970. This week’s selection is by Robert F. Hall, who was president of an earlier publication called Adirondack Life that was included in the weekly newspapers of the Denton Publications chain. That magazine ceased publication in 1968, and the name was sold to Eustis Paine and Richard Lawrence Jr., who started the independent magazine that continues today.

The impending centennial of women’s suffrage has brought renewed interest to the story of Inez Milholland, whose grave in Lewis became the site of the annual Adirondack Women’s March starting in January 2017.

The town of Lewis in Essex County
for more than a half century was hometown for the Milhollands, that enormously talented family whose activities and accomplishments made frequent news in the Eastern daily papers.

The most colorful was the highly gifted Inez, the older of two daughters of John and Jean Milholland, who grew up summers at the family home Meadowmount, on the Lewis-Wadhams road. By 1913, when she was 25, she was already known on two continents for her militant activity in behalf of women’s rights. At her death in 1916, ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was four years away but for its realization she shares credit with Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Shaw and Harriet Stanton Blatch.

Inez graduated in 1909 from Vassar where, it is said, she caused considerable anxiety among the faculty by her outspoken feminist and socialist views. At one time she enrolled two-thirds of her fellow students in the feminist movement and proceeded to instruct them in the inseparability of the two issues—women’s rights and socialism. She was also very good, we are told, at “throwing a basketball.”

After graduation she decided to study law and tried unsuccessfully to entr Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard Law School. Eventually, in 1912, she was accepted at New York University Law School, but records do not indicate that she became a member of the bar. In any case, she had plenty to keep her busy because the women’s suffrage movement was then moving into high gear and with her beauty, brilliance and youth Inez had a stellar role to play.

That movement reached its peak in 1913. It attracted the finest female minds and the support of many influential statesmen. Nine states had by then voted to extend the right to vote to women. And it was estimated that in the upcoming national election of 1916, between two and three million women would vote.

Inez Milholland and her group, were, however, impatient with the slowness of state action. They insisted upon an amendment to the national constitution and demanded that Congress act to set the amendment in motion. Their crusade came to a great climax on March 4, 1913, the day President Wilson was inaugurated for his first term. Suffragists from all the nation poured into the capital and staged a great march down Pennsylvania Avenue, with young Inez Milholland, astride a white charger, leading the parade.

The women’s parade was peaceful and orderly, but it was soon bogged down in violence. A mob of men attacked, slapping women, throwing burning cigars at them, and shouting obscenities. Troops were called in from Fort Myers to protect the women, and the Senate later staged an investigation.

Meanwhile Inez had been commissioned by McClure’s Magazine to conduct “a department directed primarily to the interests of women.” Earlier in the year she had collaborated with Wallace Irwin, the novelist, on an article in McClure’s which was notable for the grave respect with which it treated the women’s movement.

During that summer on a visit to Europe, Inez met and married F. Eugene Boissevain of Amsterdam. In an interview with a New York Times reporter later, she said that she had proposed to Boissevain which, true or not, reflected the aggressive feminist views which she represented.

In November she accepted an invitation from Henry Ford to join the Peace Ship, that fantastic project which was expected to talk the Kaiser into ending World War I. She left the ship a month later at Stockholm, criticizing what she called a lack of democracy in its administration.

Whatever hopes the women had placed in Woodrow Wilson were soon shattered by his adamant stand against a constitutional amendment. His platform for the 1916 election campaign placed him and the Democratic party on the record for enfranchisement of women only through state action. This threw a large section of the suffragist movement into the Republican camp, and Inez announced that she would campaign in support of Charles Evans Hughes. On October 4, she began a speaking tour to support the Hughes candidacy in those states which had already extended the franchise to women.

But the tour was never completed. Inez became ill October 26 in Los Angeles and was taken to a hospital. On November 25, after several blood transfusions, she died, presumably a victim of leukemia, although the newspaper dispatches of the time did not specify the cause.

John Milholland, Sr., and Eugene Boissevain traveled to Los Angeles and brought her body directly to Lewis for burial December 3 in the Milholland family plot in the cemetery of the Congregational Church.

In New York on that same day, at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, a service was held by the Rev. Dr. Charles Parkhurst with only members of the family and close friends attending. None of the suffragist leaders were informed of the scheduled services and none attended. But they were not to be cheated of a chance to pay their own tributes to a young and beloved leader. A great memorial meeting was held at Cooper Union in New York on December 26 in the Statuary Hall of the National Capitol. Telegrams to these meetings and to the Milholland family poured in from statesmen and women leaders from all over the U.S. and Europe.

An odd item appeared in the New York Times on December 12 under a Glens Falls dateline. It said that an artist preparing to create a monument to Inez had taken measurements of her head and found its circumference was two feet, “the same as that of Thomas Carlyle.” Other head measurements weer exactly identical with those of the Chelsea sage, the dispatch said.

The same dispatch announced that the citizens of Elizabethtown had decided to change the name of Mount Discovery to Mount Inez. This is the mountain lying along the Lewis-Elizabethtown line which looks down on Meadowmount and eastward toward the expanse of the Champlain Valley. It was once owned totally by the Milholland family and John, Sr., had fenced in a great part of it as a sanctuary for a wild animal preserve.

However the map makers seemed not to have taken cognizance of this decision and the mountain still appears on maps as Discovery.

Eight years later, Mount Inez did make news. A pageant entitled “Forward into Light” was held at its foot in connection with a three-day conference of the National Woman’s Party launching that party’s campaign for votes in the 1924 election.

Anne Boissevain Nusbaum, who married Eugene Boissevain’s brother, and who now lives in Westport, recalls the pageant in detail. More than 10,000 attended, she said. The theme was the passing of the torch of freedom from one generation to the next. Great women leaders of the past were honored, and Inez’s role was dramatized by the appearance of her sister, Vida, riding a white horse as Inez had done in so many suffragist parades. In the final act of the pageant, Anne took the torch and passed it on to a group of women just setting off on the campaign tour.

The National Woman’s Party has long since ceased to be the major medium through which women have channeled political activity. But the recent resurgence of militancy among women in defense of their status has focused new attention on the winning of the vote fifty years ago. In marking this anniversary, the contribution of three Adirondack women—Inez Milholland, her sister, Vida, and her sister-in-law Anne Nusbaum, is here appropriately noted.

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