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On This Day… The New York Suffrage Parades

Written by: George Chittenden : 09 Jun 2019

It was on this day, 23rd Oct, back in 1915 when tens of thousands of women flooded Fifth Avenue in New York creating a spectacular, five-mile suffrage parade that virtually brought the city to a standstill. The parade took months to organise and despite appearing as a triumph it was actually a fraught and nervous event, as New York State was about to have a referendum vote on whether to allow women the vote.

The women’s suffrage leaders were practiced at arranging such popular spectacles and knew that parades were the most effective, opinion-changing tactic. At the time thirteen states, all west of the Mississippi, had enfranchised women. It was hoped that progressive New York would lead the way in the east. So, on that warm sunny day over a century ago some 20,000 women, 2,500 men, 74 women on horseback, 143 automobiles, four floats with females representing Victory, Liberty, Freedom and Democracy, along with 57 bands numbering over a thousand musicians marched up Fifth Avenue.

Unfortunately, despite its immediate success the parade failed and then days later on November 2nd, 1915 the suffrage referendum lost; male voters in every borough in the city voted no to enfranchising women. In response the New York suffrage women began organising another parade, and in 1917 on the eve of another referendum 50,000 women marched carrying a petition signed by over a million supporters. This time the referendum passed, and New York became the fourteenth state to enfranchise women. Then in June 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment prohibiting the denial of the right to vote “on account of sex” was ratified by three-quarters of the states.

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