From Purple Sashes To Pink Pussy Hats: The Evolution of The 'Women's March'

Mar 13, 2018

When people gathered for the women’s marches of 2017 and 2018, they were joining a tradition that dates back more than a century. In 1913, thousands of women marched on Washington wearing purple and gold sashes instead of pink hats, and Rebecca Roberts says they were a lot more radical than today’s activists.

Roberts is the author of “Suffragists in Washington, D.C.: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote” (The History Press/2017). In the book she takes a look at how the suffragist movement evolved from the 1913 parade to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Host Frank Stasio talks to Roberts about how the 1913 march energized women to push through the last leg of the fight to get the right to vote. Roberts also draws parallels between the march 105 years ago and the marches that are happening today. Roberts will be at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh this Friday, March 16, for a book reading and signing.

Interview Highlights

Roberts on the parallels between the 1913 march and contemporary women’s marches:
The parallels are hard to ignore. This was a march of women right down the corridors of federal power in Washington designed to coordinate with the inauguration of a president they hadn't voted for in order to announce that women's voices were here to stay and wouldn't be silenced and that the incoming administration needed to pay attention, which all sounds awfully familiar from January 2017.

It was shocking to speak your mind in public in 1913 as a woman. That was something nice girls just didn't do. And the idea of parading, quite literally, down Pennsylvania Avenue — it was a fairly aggressive statement. - Rebecca Roberts

On Alice Paul, the organizer of the 1913 parade, and her time with suffragettes in the U.K.:
Alice Paul went to jail. She went on a hunger strike. She was force-fed. By the time she came back to the U.S in 1910, she was wondering why the American movement was so slow and so boring.

The reaction of some of the suffragists during World War I:
They were so angered by this naked hypocrisy of Woodrow Wilson being the poster child for democracy abroad while ignoring the fact that half of his own citizens were disenfranchised … That sets up this precedent of saying: Actually we need to hold our own leaders accountable for what they're doing here at home no matter what it is they're saying into open microphones abroad.

On how the 1913 parade affected the following seven years of the suffrage movement:
It certainly got a whole new generation of women involved. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony – the women we know as part of suffrage history – they started the movement in the 1840s. They were dead by 1913 … It got young women thinking that there was something more aggressive that they could do that was more direct action.

On the differences between the 1913 parade and the marches of today:
There are a lot of differences. The 1913 parade was led by a banner with a one-sentence demand on it, "We demand a Constitutional amendment enfranchising women." One sentence, one very very clear goal. And the contemporary women's movement has a lot of goals, and in some ways that's the evolution. We've gotten to the point where we can ask for more than one thing ... The parallels make it a little bit harder to see where does the current movement have actionable items in the same way that the suffrage movement did.