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Maud Malone: The New York City Suffrage Parade of 1908

Suffrage parade NYC 1908 LOC
Bettina Borrmann Wells in center of the paraders on the left in the white hat, Maud Malone on the right in the dark hat. February 16, 1908 Bain News Service collection, Library of Congress.

https://www.loc.gov/item/2014680145/

By Dan Meharg

With more and more women deciding to participate in open-air meetings, Maud Malone decided to hold a parade in February 1908. Maud was always willing to be brave enough to go first. Again she invited women club members to join her:

“Dear Madam: As you will probably have seen from notices in the public press, it is proposed to hold shortly in New York a demonstration and parade of women in order to protest against the present unequal political and economic position of women and the arbitrary legislation to which they are subjected… It is proposed to organize the parade on the broadest basis possible and to invite the cooperation of women of all parties and public bodies, so that it shall be truly representative.”[1]

Again most women's club members across the city were repelled by this idea. Suffrage leaders such as Carrie Chapman Catt spoke out strongly against Maud’s methods and how much it would harm the suffrage movement.[2] The police tried to ban the parade, stating that only funerals received permits for gatherings on Sundays. But just as with the open air meetings, the parade on February 16, 1908 was a huge success.[3] Maud and about thirty women from a variety of suffrage groups joined with about two thousand men, defying the police ban. The throng walked together on a Sunday afternoon stroll from Union Square up Broadway to a meeting hall on 23rd Street. There were no arrests and a good time was had by all.[4]

The press loved the suffragette parade and their positive reviews were reprinted in papers across the country. “Great Moral Victory, but without Parade” beamed the New York Tribune. The Washington Times wrote: ”Amazons Bluff New York Police: fair Suffragettes take ‘quiet walk’ up Broadway while Police admire.” The New York Times reported "Suffragist Parade Despite the Police: They went to the rallying point and the police said, “Move on” They did.”[5]

The fact that so many thousands of men participated in the suffrage parade was confirmation to Maud that her efforts to build a community of men and women interested in collaboration were working.[6] Street meetings, speeches, spontaneous debates and discussions were combining to create a political and social coalition of progressive men and women. She would write of the parade:

“There were as many men as women who took part that day in our demonstration. They walked up Broadway with us to 23rd street and then went inside and spoke for us at our indoor meeting held in the Manhattan Trade School. I myself could tell you of a great number of men of all shades of radical opinion…who marched with us that day. It only seems right that whenever possible I should speak up and defend the men, even from well-meaning critics. Indeed, from the beginning of the militant movement here men have always been our best backers…”[7]

One of Maud’s innovations was to make the American version of Suffragette activism fun.[8] While English women used whips and chains to shock the British citizens into realizing the seriousness of their cause, Maud realized that to engage the American public into accepting an American Suffragette spectacle, it would have be enjoyable. Photographers and newspaper reporters captured the smiles and fun Maud brought to the February march. Journalists often contrasted the violence of English rallies with the lighthearted cooperation in Maud’s first parade.[9] Reporters loved to include in their news articles the humorous and joyful but serious banter between Maud and her male audience.[10] Suffragette activism and the spectacles suffragettes created made Americans form an opinion and feel an emotional response to feminism, equal pay and voting rights. Those emotions often led to a call for action. Those political actions, open air meetings, marches, canvassing for votes, petitions and protests enabled just enough voting men to reconsider how they felt about votes for women and equal rights. Those changed minds brought enough state legislative votes to enact the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.

Maud was not afraid to correct those who followed in her path when she felt they strayed. She quit the suffrage organization she herself had founded, the Progressive Women’s Suffrage Union, saying, ”The present policy of the Union is: First to attract a well-dressed crowd, not the rabble… It also seeks to exclude from its platform men and women who announce they are Socialists……To me the movement to be truly progressive should recognize no prejudice of race, color, difference in clothes or creed, whether religious, or economic…” Maud felt that the group had lost her original vision of accepting everyone. She believed as her physician father had before her, that democratic movements should include all people. “It was in the broadest spirit of democracy that we went out into the streets inviting all passersby to listen to our arguments and offer their objections or ask questions.” She wrote. [11]

By 1909, less than two years later, conservative suffragists as well as militant suffragettes across the US would adopt massive street parades and open air speaking to get their message out to the public.[12] They quickly forgot[13] about the time when they denounced open air speaking and suffrage marches as bizarre and degrading.[14] Suffragists and suffragettes also quickly forgot about that “pushy” woman who showed them something they did not expect to see: how open air speaking and marches done with a dash of joy and humor, could reinvigorate a dying movement.[15]

Notes:

[1] “Asks clubs to parade” New York Daily Tribune, January 29, 1908.
[2] “Manhattan has been joyfully proclaiming its desire for woman suffrage in the English ‘militant’ way, holding open air meetings in Madison Square and preparing for a grand parade and demonstration on February 16…A few women have come out definitely and emphatically against the public demonstrations. Most prominent is Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt… ‘I think them decidedly out of place,’ said Mrs. Catt in a letter read before a Brooklyn Club referring to the open air meetings. ‘There is no excuse for holding meetings without some definite object. We have none for holding meetings in the streets of New York…I suppose such a movement comes from the advice of [English Suffrage leaders] Mrs. Sanderson and Mrs. Wells. They do not understand our conditions. When we start a militant movement, it must not be one aping the English whose every condition is different from ours, but wholly American. ‘”
“Suffragists compared with Suffragettes: Latter are of the militant type whose methods are opposed by Brooklyn Women” Brooklyn Daily Eagle February 2, 1908.
[3] “Women to parade despite the police: ‘only funeral precessions allowed on Sundays’ says Bingham, ‘We’ll parade’ echo Suffragettes” New York Herald February 16, 1908.
[4] “Great Moral Victory” New York Daily Tribune, February 17, 1908 “Miss Malone and Mrs. Wells and their little band of followers said it was a great moral victory and it really was as good as a parade. It was so far as the crowd went.”
[5] “Great Moral Victory” New York Daily Tribune, February 17, 1908, “Amazons Bluff New York Police” Washington Times, February 17, 1908, “Suffragists Parade Despite The Police” The New York Times, February 17, 1908.
[6]Malone, Maud “Women who want the Ballot give their reasons: Recent Results Encouraging” The New York Times, November 8, 1908. “Just in proportion as the women learn to relate to the woman suffrage question to the other great questions of daily life, just so will our cause grow, and the industrial question, the economic, and the social question are all inter woven with the suffrage, all those questions will only be cleared up and settled by men and women voting intelligently on election day…This is what the Harlem Equal Rights League works for, and this is the very essence of the idea of the women’s [unofficial] polls.”
[7] “When men first marched” New York Call, November 3, 1915.
[8] Eleanor Booth Simmons “Names of Suffrage Pioneers Not Forgotten in Victory” The Sun, [New York] December 9, 1917 p. 10 “…Yes it was fun covering suffrage in those days…”
[9]“The Tribulations of the Suffragettes” Harpers Weekly Magazine March 7, 1908 p. 11. “The Suffragettes have reached New York, but have not attained martyrdom. The public will not hurl eggs at them and the police refuse to arrest them…In our land this importation would have aroused resentment save for its elements of humor.”
[10] “Men she can’t reason with: Maud Malone’s street canvas for suffrage” The Sun [New York] December 10, 1908. “For a year she had been holding meetings all over town – answers made by the men in the street to her arguments.”
[11] “Miss Malone Quits the Suffragettes” The New York Times March 27, 1908.
[12] “Militancy in America: Miss Malone thinks it means Hecklings, Arrest and Jail” The New York Tribune May 6, 1913 Maude Malone: “On December 31, 1907, the Suffrage movement in America became militant. On that afternoon the first open air meeting was held in Madison Square. In February 1908, the first street parade for women suffrage in the United States was organized by the Harlem Equal Rights League. Gradually street meetings and parades became the fashion not only in New York but through the country. To these have been added ‘hikes’ ‘hecklings’ arrests and imprisonments. The results of this militancy have astounded even the oldtime suffragists. The country has become aroused. Suffragists now hold three parades a year and two large meetings a week. Last Friday, in the Metropolitan and Saturday at Carnegie Hall, suffragists held two crowded meetings. In these meetings pledges of large sums were made by women one never saw at suffrage meetings in the old “self-controlled” days, women who never new we existed or cared. For the country at large there are these results to the credit of militancy: From 1869 to 1910, a period of forty one years, suffragists won four states. Now, Militancy began in 1908. From 1910 to 1913, a period of a little over three years, suffragists won five states, one territory and Colonel Roosevelt (?). In the last four months eleven state legislatures have passed a vote for the submission of a suffrage amendment. Since we have become militant we have won our biggest victories. In our fight American militants have been inspired by the fine fight the English women are putting up. Their fight is ours. This is in accord with the spirit of the times which would break down all barriers of race and class, of sex, and color, and join us in a common sisterhood. Mary Leigh, Annie Kenny, Mrs. Pankhurst and all the other ‘hooligans’ are fighting for all women. For myself I say ‘There is nothing these women have done but is good and wise and helpful for women suffrage here and throughout the world." Maud Malone New York May 5, 1913.
[13] “Names of Suffrage Pioneers Not Forgotten” The Sun [New York] December 9, 1917. Ironically, in an attempt to remember women who helped win the right to vote in New York State in 1917, Eleanor Booth Simmons gets most of her facts wrong and largely ignores Maud Malone: “The suffrage movement in New York as I knew it is compassed between two street meetings: one, the very first one ever held here, on the southeast corner of Madison Square, on a cold windy morning in March 1909-or perhaps it was 1908; the other in Abingdon Square on the eve of election day November 5, 1917…That very first street meeting ws organized, I believe by Mrs. Borrmann Wells of England…by Mrs. Wells and Mrs. Sophia Loebinger, a plump temperamental, energetic, voluble little women from somewhere in Harlem, and Miss Helen Murphy a tall, dignified gray haired woman…I believe Maud Malone was with them, but Maud was quite mild then…”
[14] “The hopes of the suffragette in America: Mrs. Borrmann Wells, Who has been a Militant of the Militants for Woman Suffrage in England, Predicts an Active Campaign in This Country – Organizing on a New Basis” The New York Times December 14, 1908. “All agree that it is now a militant movement in America, a movement which the spirit of emulation makes each organization strive to equal if not to excel the accomplishments of every other. It is no longer considered bad form to hold street meetings. On the contrary, it is considered bad form not to.”
[15] “Militancy” In America: Miss Malone Thinks it Means Hecklings, Arrest and Jail,” New York Tribune May 6, 1913 p.8. “…From ten to fifteen years before 1908 the suffrage movement in this country was an absolutely stagnant one. The different bodies of women had reached an impasse, and the whole movement was at a standstill, not from lack of enthusiasm but because the work of suffrage education which their generation had done was done and for a younger generation newer methods were needed.” Maud Malone letter to the editor.

Last updated: July 5, 2019