Boy Scouts at the 1913 Suffrage Parade

Huge crowds of people block the 1913 suffrage procession. National Archives Coll.
Exhibit No. 36, View of the Woman Suffrage Parade from the Willard Hotel, Washington DC, from the Hearings before the Subcommittee of the Committee of the District of Columbia of the United States Senate.

Collection of the National Archives.

In early March of 1913, 1,500 Boy Scouts from DC, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia traveled to Washington, DC. They were there to help the Inaugural Committee handle crowds in the nation’s capital during the inauguration of President-Elect Woodrow Wilson. On March 3, 1913, however, they found themselves keeping the peace and rendering aid at a very different event.

March 3 was the day before President-Elect Wilson’s inauguration. It was the day targeted by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and the National American Woman Suffrage Association for the Woman Suffrage Procession. The Procession, comprised of more than 5,000 marchers from across the country, was held to pressure Wilson to guarantee women’s access to the vote. As well as the thousands of people present for the Procession, DC was also bursting with those in town for Wilson’s inauguration. Thousands of them filled the streets. A photo taken from the Willard Hotel shows a sea of people. Suffragists were heckled, blocked from marching, and subject to violence. Unable to escape the massive crowds, people were also fainting in the streets.

from Boys Life April 1913
Photos of Boy Scouts holding back crowds with their batons (left) and helping render medical aid near an ambulance (right) during the suffrage parade. From "Boys' Life" Magazine, April 1913.

DC police were unable to control the crowds or to protect the suffragists. Into the fray went the 1,500 Boy Scouts, armed with batons and first aid kits. With their batons, they held back crowds and fashioned stretchers to carry those who had fainted. Afterwards, suffragists and anti-suffragists expressed their gratitude to the Boy Scouts for imposing order and rendering aid. The DC police were subject of a congressional inquiry into their inability to control the crowds.

Kratz, Jessie. "Suffrage and Suffering at the 1913 March," Pieces of History (blog of the National Archives), March 1, 2013.

What the Boy Scouts Did at the Inauguration. Boys' Life (Boy Scouts of America) April 1913.

Last updated: January 13, 2021