Article

Forward Into Light!

Jessie Hardy MacKaye with banner in front of building. Banner reads: Forward Out of Error Leave Behind the Night Forward through the Darkness Forward Into Light."
Jessie Hardy MacKaye with banner in front of Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage building. Banner reads: Forward Out of Error Leave Behind the Night Forward through the Darkness Forward Into Light." 1917

Harris & Ewing, Photographers National Woman's Party Collection, Library of Congress

“Forward into Light” was a popular rallying cry for the women’s suffrage movement. Suffragists carried banners at marches and demonstrations emblazoned with a compelling verse: “Forward out of error / Leave behind the night. / Forward through the darkness, / Forward into light!” The words evoked the movement’s goal of a brighter future through women’s votes, and the hope of leaving behind the “error” and “darkness” of oppression.

“Forward into Light” is most associated with suffragist Inez Milholland, who carried it on a banner while leading the 1911 New York City suffrage parade. After Milholland’s premature death in 1916 at the age of 30, the movement circulated memorial posters with an image of her and the slogan. The National Woman’s Party also adopted it as a motto.

Forward into Light banner CC BY NC by thisfeministrox on Flickr
Suffrage banner at Belmont Paul Women's Equality National Monument. Photo by thisfeministrox (CC-BY-NC).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jcardinal18/2952006665

The slogan originated from a hymn called “Forward! Be Our Watchword,” written by Rev. Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, in 1871. The hymn includes lyrics like:

"Forward through the desert,
Through the toil and fight;
Heaven’s Kingdom waits us,
Forward into light."

The suffragists used several adaptions of the lyrics, including the version on this banner in the collection of the National Woman's Party:

"Forward Out of Darkness
Leave Behind the Night
Forward Out of Error
Forward Into Light."
Inez Milholland poster from 1924. Smithsonian NMAH collection
Inez Milholland Pageant Poster, 1924. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History.

https://www.si.edu/object/nmah_1065881

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, National Mall and Memorial Parks , Pennsylvania Avenue