The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted on August 18, 1920, affirming that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The adoption was the culmination of decades of work by suffragists to eliminate sex-based discrimination in voting rights. While Native Americans and Chinese Americans nationwide and African Americans in many parts of the country still could not vote, sex was no longer a barrier to the franchise
A remarkable number of people and places in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo played key roles in the women’s suffrage movement. These neighborhoods were long centers of political ferment and progressive social change, and women and men here played a prominent part in removing barriers to women voting in New York State (which didn’t grant women the right to vote until 1917) and the country. In honor of the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, Village Preservation has created a StoryMap that chronicles the impact our neighborhoods and its residents had to ensure the right to vote for all women.
Today, we highlight one of the entries from our StoryMap, Inez Milholland, an outspoken suffragist whose tenacity and drive made her a leader, symbol, and martyr of the women’s suffrage movement.
Milholland, born August 6th, 1886, was the daughter of John Milholland, a reporter and businessman who played a role in the development of the NAACP and the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage. In 1909, Milholland graduated from Vassar College, where she promoted suffrage activism on campus despite the administration’s resistance. That same year, after returning to New York to live with her family at 9 East 9th Street, she interrupted a New York campaign parade for William Howard Taft by shouting through a window with a megaphone on the issue of suffrage.
After being rejected from numerous law schools on account of her gender, she finally enrolled in NYU School of Law, earning her degree in 1912. She became a labor and children’s rights attorney, journalist, and correspondent. Milholland continued her activism while developing her career, participating in the shirtwaist and laundry worker strikes in New York City, for which she was arrested. Milholland was entrenched in the Village’s bohemian community and involved in the production of the Greenwich Village-based radical publication The Masses, edited by Max Eastman.
On March 3rd, 1913, Milholland garnered national attention when she led a suffrage parade the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Riding on a white horse wearing a white cape, she looked like a modern-day Joan of Arc. Two years later, in 1915, Milholland traveled on the Ford Peace Ship to participate in a neutral negotiation to end World War I.
Upon her return to the United States, she supported a universal suffrage constitutional amendment and conducted a speaking tour through the western part of the country in 1916. Also in 1916, she delivered an address at the organizing meeting of the National Women’s Party held that year.
Milholland did all of this in spite of warnings that the pernicious amnesia from which she suffered required bed rest and other cautions to keep her healthy. Supremely passionate about the suffrage cause, she ignored these warnings and continued her grueling schedule. During another speech on October 22nd, 1916 in Los Angeles, she collapsed and was hospitalized, dying four weeks later on November 25th. She never lived to see women’s suffrage approved in either her home state of New York or across the country, much less the universal suffrage she advocated for.
Fellow radical suffragist Alice Paul organized a memorial service at the U.S. Capitol building on December 25th, 1916 in honor of Milholland, and another memorial was held at Cooper Union. Her last words were reported to have been: “President Wilson, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Inez Milholland is just one of over two dozen people, places, and organizations featured in our 19th Amendment Centennial StoryMap, including champions like Louise Bryant, who helped win voting rights for women in Oregon before moving to Greenwich Village in 1915; Ida Rauh, who founded the Women’s Trade Union League; and Emma Goldman, a “tried and true anarchist” who was once labeled by the FBI as “the most dangerous woman in America.”
Explore our interactive map further and learn more about the Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo’s invaluable contributions to the cause of women’s suffrage.