Happy anniversary to the women of New York! Over one hundred years ago this state granted women the right to vote. The nation would not follow with the 19th Amendment for another 3 years. 2020 is that 100th anniversary.
Adirondack women have special ties to this movement, particularly in one noted suffragette. A few years ago I learned of Inez Milholland Boissevain, a woman who had some roots in this region. When I learned of Inez, it was the 100-year anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913. Inez was a key participant in the 1913 parade that took place on the day of President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Over 8,000 suffragettes descended upon Washington D.C. to march for their cause. They were received rather poorly by the male-dominated crowd. Reports say that spitting and stone throwing were offered as a welcome.
Inez was definitely an outspoken leader in the movement for women’s right to vote. In the parade, decked in a white cape, riding a white horse named Gray Dawn, she became the movement's “poster child” as well as a compelling national speaker for the cause. She wore a banner with the slogan: "Forward out of Darkness, Leave Behind the Night, Forward Out of Error, Forward Into Light." This was later adopted as the slogan of the National Women's Party.
I was not surprised to learn of her strong connection to the Adirondacks, particularly the Lake Champlain Region. This region is no stranger to those fighting for liberty (think Revolutionary War and the Underground Railroad). In many ways her adult life exemplifies a true Adirondack Spirit.
Inez was actually born in Brooklyn. It was her father, John, that was the native “Adirondacker.” He grew up in Lewis, but made his fortune in New York City - first as a reporter and editorial writer for the New York Tribune, and then heading a pneumatic tube message delivery business. Inez, and her siblings, had a rather privileged lifestyle including some of the best finer education and travel throughout Europe. Summers often found her family returning to John Milholland’s “home town” in Lewis where they spent time at their estate, Meadowmount. Yes, this is the same location as the internationally famous school of music for string players and pianists today.
John Milholland was also a champion and supporter of many causes and reforms including world peace, civil rights, and women’s suffrage, among others. One can speculate that he had much influence on his eldest daughter, but one can also wonder if spending a good deal of time during the formative years along this Waterway of Freedom had some influence. Is there something in the air, or water, that incites a social conscience and spurs one to action when confronted with injustice?
While attending Vassar College, Inez starred in plays, but she also participated in field hockey, basketball, and track and field competitions. She enjoyed being active, as most Adirondackers do. She actually did quite well competing in the sports. During her college years, she also began speaking on women’s rights and organizing a women’s suffrage group.
More Than One Way To Skin A Cat
Vassar College forbade speakers on women’s suffrage, so when Harriet Stanton Blatch, a noted suffragist, was prohibited from speaking on the campus, Inez organized a rally at the adjacent cemetery. That clever little side-step ended up getting her suspended from school, but also got her some attention. By the time she graduated from Vassar in 1909, two-thirds of the student body belonged to the women’s suffrage group she’d created, the Vassar Votes for Women Club.
A Social Conscience
After Vassar, Inez attended New York University where she earned a law degree, specializing in Labor Law. Her involvement with social causes expanded as she worked with the Women’s Trade Union League, Child Labor Committee, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and, of course, the women’s suffrage movement. She has been described as a beautiful, witty, and compelling public speaker.
Do The Right Thing, Regardless
In 1913, Inez married a Dutch businessman, Eugen Jan Boissevain, after a brief whirlwind romance. Ironically, at the time, when a woman married, she took the nationality of her husband. With that marriage, Inez lost her American citizenship. She would not have been able to exercise her right to vote had it been granted to women during her lifetime, but she was not an activist for personal gain. She was in it for the cause.
After a stint as a World War I war correspondent in 1915, where her speeches angered the Italian government, she returned to the United States in 1916. Inez was immediately recruited by the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage and embarked on a rigorous speaking tour throughout twelve western states. Despite her doctor’s warning to rest for her health, she continued on with her demanding speaking schedule. In the fall of that year she collapsed while speaking in Los Angeles. She died a few short weeks later of pernicious anemia. It is reported that the last public words were: “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” At her memorial service in Washington, D.C. in December of that year, Senator George Sutherland, author of the constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote said, “Had she known that her trip across the continent was to end as it did, she would have fearlessly gone on.” Inez is buried in the Lewis Cemetery.
Today over 65% of voters in the United States are female. When we go to the polls, everyone should send a thank you to the men and women that fought for this 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote 100 years ago. It doesn’t matter whether you are a female. Justice, or injustice, affects us all. I am an Inez admirer, but have to admit - it’s not necessarily for her gender, more for her agenda.
Read more about other inspirational Adirondack women...
Cheri Cross: Crafted by hand, with love
Andrea Kilbourne-Hill: From the Adirondacks to Olympics and back