Posted by: JanF | March 1, 2012

Women’s History Month is Marching In

March is an excellent choice to designate as Women’s History Month because marching for our rights is a big part of women’s history.

Demonstrating for women’s rights has a long storied past, probably because “just asking politely”, while more pleasing to some people, was not a very effective strategy.

Here is what National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland said about marching and demonstrating:

“When women work to mobilize and fund a group of local participants for a big event like our March for Women’s Lives, they are often transformed from enthusiastic but inexperienced activists into community leaders.”

“I’ve seen it happen over and over again. We count on it. The other transformation I have seen hits everyone from the most seasoned pioneer activist to the college sophomore. Standing side by side with a sea of kindred spirits, each of us finds renewed strength to wage the struggle for women’s equality.”

With worker’s rights demonstrations in the news this past year, we were able to see the value of large scale protests as powerful ways to draw attention to our causes.

Women have been marching for their causes for a long time.

The earliest women’s marches were by the suffragists, those hardy souls who dared suggest that women should have a say in how their country was run. (Note to self: Women are more likely to vote Democratic. Once the powers that be finish off the unions, are we next? [Update in 2012: Yup])

In 1907, the Mud March in London was the one of the earliest marches for voting rights:

Over 3,000 women trudged through the cold and the rutty streets of London from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall to advocate for women’s suffrage. The march was attended by “titled women, university women, artists, members of women’s clubs, temperance advocates, and women textile workers gathered from all parts of the country.” More than forty organizations were represented at the march. One description of the march declared, “‘[there were] plenty of well-dressed ladies and a few persons of distinction’ to head it up and ‘a long line of carriages and motor-cars to wind it up–altogether an imposing and representative array.’

Notice something about this description. It was not just poor women and working women. It was not just the well-to-do or those who lived a live of leisure. It was all different sorts of women because they shared a desire for the basic human right to self-determination.

In 1913, American women marched to Washington DC for a parade set to coincide with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. They were not treated well:

Of the estimated half million onlookers watching the parade instead of greeting the President-elect, not all were supporters of woman suffrage. Many were angry opponents of suffrage, or were upset at the march’s timing. Some hurled insults; others hurled lighted cigar butts. Some spit at the women marchers; others slapped them, mobbed them, or beat them.

The parade organizers had obtained the necessary police permit for the march, but the police did nothing to protect them from their attackers. Army troops from Fort Myer were called in to stop the violence. Two hundred marchers were injured.

(One more note to self: Check sources – it is difficult to believe that women would be treated this way simply for expressing their opinions!)

But from conflict comes progress. From the NOW site:

A suffrage parade in 1913 on the eve of President Wilson’s inauguration was marred by violence, but also increased the integration of the movement. Members of the Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta marched as a delegation, while Black journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells marched side-by-side with white women from Illinois.

In 1970, a “Women’s Strike for Equality” was organized by Betty Friedan:

It celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, which effectively gave women the right to vote. Over twenty thousand women gathered for the protest in New York City and throughout the country. At this time in history, the gathering was the largest on behalf of women in the United States.

The strike was intended to draw attention to equal rights for women and included the slogan “Don’t iron while the strike is hot”. Reading about the things that women did not have in 1970 was amazing … many are things we take for granted now. Particularly amusing was this:

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Count Marco called the strike “a day of infamy and shame” and urged his supporters to wear black armbands “mourning the death of femininity.”

Of course! Women cannot be both equal and feminine! It is, once again, displeasing to those who do not want to see women anywhere except barefoot, pregnant … and in the kitchen.

In 1977, NOW organized a march for the Equal Rights Amendment which drew over 100,000 people. The 1980 Mother’s Day March for ERA brought 90,000 to Chicago, the 1992 march protesting Casey v. Planned Parenthood brought 750,000 to Washington DC, and in April 1995 the Rally for women’s lives drew 200,000. In April 2004, 1.5 million marched in Washington DC to “protect and advance access to a full range of reproductive health care options, including abortion, birth control and emergency contraception”.

Why do we keep marching? Well, because this fight is never done. The battle for women’s rights and specifically women’s reproductive rights has to be fought all over again every election cycle.

Here is a slideshow from the NOW site so you can see how women’s fashions and hairstyles marching techniques have changed over the years.

Banners? Check.
Comfortable shoes? Check.
Big smiles? Check.
Solidarity? Check.
Resolve? Check … check … check.

Oh, and how about some inspirational music?

This is the first in a series of posts celebrating Women’s History Month originally posted in 2011.

(A version of this was originally posted on 03/09/2011 at BPI Campus)

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