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.”

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? Turns out … yes!)

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!!!1!!)

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?

Crossposted from Views from North Central Blogistan

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



  1. It all begins with the right to vote and this year that right to vote may well elect our first women president. March on!

  2. Angry Mouse from Yr Wonkette weighs in:

    Clinton won 453 delegates on Tuesday, compared to Sanders’s 284. If you factor in superdelegates — elected Democrats and party leaders who are free to support any candidate, but have overwhelmingly lined up for Clinton — she’s nearly halfway to the nomination already.

    A hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote. Fifty years ago, women couldn’t have credit cards in their own name. […]

    Democrats are this close to nominating a woman for president. And she is going to win. And that — even if you don’t like her or her husband or her politics or her hairstyle — is a hell of a thing.

  3. And women are still fighting for reproductive rights. In 2014, Texas passed an onerous law aimed at making it nearly impossible to get an abortion in their state. So the right to an abortion, upheld by Roe v Wade, became “the right to an abortion … if you can find an abortion clinic, missy!!!”

    The law was challenged and the plaintiffs asked for a stay to halt enforcement until they had their day in court fearing that the closed clinics would never be able to reopen even if they eventually prevailed. The district court and circuit court ruled in favor of the Texas law and refused to issue a stay but the Supreme Court took up the case on June 29, 2015 and halted implementation of the law.

    Yesterday, the 8 person Supreme Court heard the case.

    Solicitor General Daniel Verrilli made the point about rights without the ability to exercise them:

    “I think, ultimately, the question before you is whether the right here is going to retain real substance, and whether the balance struck in Casey still holds.”

    “If that right still does retain real substance, then this law cannot stand,” Verrilli continues. “The burdens it imposes, the obstacles, are far beyond anything that this Court has countenanced. And the justification for it is far weaker than anything that this Court has countenanced. It is an undue burden. It is the definition of an undue burden.”

    The tea leaf readers think it is likely that the case gets sent back to the lower courts rather than decided now. That makes the choice of the next Supreme Court justice, and the next presidential election, even more important.

    Dahlia Lithwick from Slate:

    … if you count Justice Stephen Breyer as one of history’s great feminists—and I do—then you can view the arguments in this term’s landmark abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, as creating a neat 4–4 split. On one side, you have a group of testy male justices needling a female lawyer for Texas clinics about whether it was even appropriate for them to hear this appeal. On the other, you’ve got four absolutely smoking hot feminists pounding on Texas’ solicitor general for passing abortion regulations that have no plausible health purpose and also seem pretty stupid.

    It felt as if, for the first time in history, the gender playing field at the high court was finally leveled […]

    If the case is sent back to Texas on remand, we will play this out again in a few years with nine justices. But it’s hard to imagine President Obama conjuring up, from even the darkest, most devious underground lab, a new justice who would be half as fierce as the four-car train of whoop ass we saw today.

    Four-car train of whoop ass. Check. Let’s make it five.

    • Charlie Pierce: Everyone needs to pay attention right now.

      Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt is a test of a Texas law, which is of a piece with all the similar ones that popped up all over the country after Justice Anthony Kennedy opened the door in Carhart, that created the legal absurdity by which women still have the right to choose, but states have nearly unlimited options by which they can make that right impossible to exercise. […]

      … my intuition is that the Court’s going to punt on this one, but, at the very least, once again, the stakes of the upcoming presidential election are clear in this case, where there is no ideological majority any more and, therefore, no longer a constituency for ridiculous bad-faith arguments like the ones made in defense of this Texas law, which was passed to eliminate abortions. Period. Maybe the Court no longer is required to believe nonsense just because it has five votes.

    • This important statement by Verrilli, from the oral argument, is the key:

      And I think, therefore, that if you do find that this law is upheld, what you will be saying is that this right really only exists in theory and not in fact, going forward, and that the commitments that this Court made in Casey will not have been kept.

      Those commitments were made by Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion in Casey … the commitment that there should not be an “undue burden” placed on women seeking an abortion. Let’s see if he remembers what he wrote or gives a damn if he reneges now.

  4. Thanks for a wonderful post, Jan! Thanks for reminding us that March (my birth month) is Women’s History Month.

    I’m old enough to remember all the things women didn’t have in 1970. August 1970 was the month I carried my eight-week-old baby boy onto a city bus (I didn’t drive in those days) that traveled to Farragut Square in downtown Washington, DC. That rally was an eye-opener.

    There, for the first time, I realized that the problem wasn’t me—I had felt out of step with society for all 26 years of my life—but them.

    As one of your quotes says, it was wonderful to know that I wasn’t alone, that other women felt the same way. That was the beginning of feminist thought for me. I marched for the ERA in the 1970s and defended abortion clinics in the 1990s. It’s been a hell of a ride! :)

    • It is my birth month, also! Clearly, that makes it the best month ever!!!

      I wrote this series a few years back and one of the pieces was “A Woman’s Place”:

      The old saying from the women’s movement in the 1970s was that a woman’s place is in the House … and the Senate.

      And today, Bella Abzug might be able to add “… and the Oval Office”. :)

  5. Yay!!!

    Love delving into women’s history – so much of it still in the shadows.
    Thanks Jan.

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