Strike up the Band! Suffrage Parades in Iowa
The word “parade” came to England from France, a Middle French word meaning “to prepare.” The English began having parades in the mid-1600s, which were described as somber public processions. The American colonists may have had similar events, and they may have changed in the 1800s, as did the English, to more celebratory events that became fairly common. Such parades had a new meaning – a series of people or things, one after another, in a procession, many times with music.
In the late 1800s, in addition to publishing magazines such as The Lily and The Woman’s Standard and submitting articles to other periodicals, suffrage groups in the U.S. organized public lectures by noted speakers such as Anna Howard Shaw and Mathilda Fletcher. By the early 1900s, many suffrage organizers wanted to increase interest in the movement in a more dramatic manner and aim at a wider audience – and thus the advent of the suffrage parade.
Iowa Equal Suffrage Association president Eleanor Elizabeth Gordon had heard about suffrage parades being held in England. She began to favor the addition of this new method for informing the public of women’s right to vote, an approach that did not require people to read lengthy articles or listen to long speeches. Plus, a parade could be a family event and fun! Early in 1908 she called on Rowena Edson Stevens, president of the Boone Equality Club, to organize a suffrage parade for the 37th Equal Suffrage Association’s convention, which was to be held in Boone at the Holst Hotel that fall.
At noon on October 29, over a hundred women lined up at the corner of 7th and Carroll Streets in Boone. The group was led by Mary Jane Coggeshall, Des Moines, called by Carrie Chapman Catt the “Mother of Iowa Suffrage.” Mrs. Coggeshall had voiced that she thought marching in a parade was too radical and un-ladylike, but she finally agreed to be part of the event.
Led by a local band and a car carrying Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the women, carrying banners, began marching east toward the heart of the Boone business district.
When they reached the intersection of 8th and Story Streets, Dr. Shaw spoke to the crowd in an open-air meeting. After her speech, the parade continued for five more blocks, returning to the starting point.
After the parade, Mrs. Coggeshall shared to the assembled suffragists the words of her businessman husband John: “My husband says that the parade today has done more to advance the cause of political equality in Boone than all the suffrage clubs, all the conventions, all the lectures and debates have ever done…there was but one topic of conversation that afternoon in the homes, shops, offices, stores, and on the street, and that was suffrage for women…” (Ferris, 2017, p. 27).
Historians have reported that this parade was one of the first suffrage parades in the U.S., if not THE first. It is documented that after the Boone parade, state and national suffrage leaders began staging parades, including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who organized 5,000 women for the March 3, 1913, women’s suffrage procession in Washington, D.C., held the day before President Wilson’s inauguration (he did not support suffrage until 1918).
At least one other suffrage parade was held in Iowa, on June 3, 1916, in Buxton, southeast of Des Moines, as reported in The Bystander newspaper (XXII #51, June 9, 1916). The parade may have been organized by members of one of the four Buxton chapters of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. It was led by the Buxton concert band, followed by families in a long procession to the auditorium. Once seated, Buxton attorney James Spears, master of ceremonies, introduced to the crowd two able speakers, Mrs. Clay of Kentucky, possibly an officer of the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, and Mrs. Pauline Devitt of Oskaloosa, a member of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association who was responsible three years later for preparing the Iowa county suffrage groups for the transition from a suffrage organization into the Iowa League of Women Voters (now called the League of Women Voters of Iowa).
Dr. Linda L. Meloy, League of Women Voters of Iowa Treasurer
Author of And They Persisted...A Century of Impact by Iowa Leagues
Photo Credit: The State Historical Society of Iowa.
Participants in the suffrage parade marched from the corner of 7th and Carroll Streets in Boone to the Boone business district.
Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (center of the photo) addresses the crowd at the intersection of 8th and Story Streets.