'Forward into the Light': Inez Milholland's Last Stand |  Books

Inez Milholland fought for women’s suffrage to the last breath. In the fall of 1916, the famous suffragist and labor lawyer took a train ride from New York west to the states where white women were already allowed to vote. Milholland was part of a larger campaign organized by Alice Paul, one of the leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, to show Woodrow Wilson that women’s ballots matter – by voting against him.

“Knowing that their efforts were unlikely to change the election results, they still wanted to make sure that President Wilson didn’t win because of the women’s votes in electoral states. The aim was to force him to recognize the bloc of western women who would vote to stand with their ineligible sisters in the east and, in turn, live up to his democratic ideals by passing an amendment to national suffrage in his next term in office. Activist-artist Jeanine Michna-Bales writes in the foreword to Standing Together: Inez Milholland’s Final Campaign for Women’s Suffrage (MW Editions, 216 pages, $ 45), a book of photographs and ephemera that creatively documents Milholland’s last weeks of life.

Jeanine Michna-Bales: Standing Together, Inez Milholland’s final campaign for women’s suffrage, opens on Friday August 28th at the Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery in Dallas.

Milholland was born in New York in 1886 and grew up in New York and London. Her parents were politically and socially active. Her father, John Milholland, was a journalist, entrepreneur, and the first treasurer of the NAACP. Michna-Boles says Milholland grew up listening as her parents and friends discussed progressive social reform and civil rights. As a college student in Vassar, she campaigned for the right to vote and admired the more radical efforts of the British movement compared to the much quieter activism in the United States.

In 1913, Milholland helped organize the Washington DC suffrage march, leading the parade from a white horse while wearing a flowing white dress. It was the same parade in which Paul called on black suffragists to march backwards instead of with their state delegations, which journalist Ida B. Wells declined. (She marched arm in arm with her white Illinois cohorts.)

On her trip in 1916, Milholland made about 50 speeches in 21 days in Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and California. She fought disease all the way, and on October 19, she collapsed on stage in Los Angeles while speaking to a standing audience. Her death, 10 weeks later, was attributed to pernicious anemia. She was 30 years old.

Michna-Bales traces Milhollands Reise in her book and photographs picturesque but desolate landscapes from the window of a moving train. It captures some of the train stations, hotels, and other places where Milholland spoke that still exist more than a century later, and reinvents other locations. Vintage news clippings show how Milholland’s speeches were anticipated and received, and bits and pieces of letters to her husband are strewn throughout. She also uses models in period clothes to imagine some of the crowds, car rides, and other moments that Milholland experienced. Some of these photographs show models of different ages and races who, according to Michna-Bales, represent Milholland and are symbolic of their efforts to create a better world for all.

Despite not providing documentation, Michna-Bales believes that because of her upbringing, Milholland would have been “resolutely against” Paul’s actions in the 1913 parade, which are now widely viewed as racist. “Paul originally invited the Alpha Suffrage Club, which Ida B. Wells was a part of, to take part in the parade. She got backlash [from Southern suffragists] Therefore. She ended up making a bad decision by listening to this backlash. It was a big, huge problem, ”she says. “Today celebrating the 19th Amendment is also a racially divided affair. The 19th Amendment did not give the Colored Indigenous Peoples the right to vote. “

Women fought for their legal right to vote for more than 70 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Despite their sustained efforts and piecemeal legislation, black and indigenous women have in. 1965 doesn’t really deserve the same right. But a lot of people don’t learn much about the right to vote in school, and the country doesn’t celebrate the achievements of these important women with a national holiday. We should, says Michna-Bales, especially with the recent state-related rollbacks of voting rights since the 2020 elections.

“It is clear that we still have a lot to do,” she writes. “And as Inez would have liked, I really hope that we will all continue to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, using our voices with courage and devotion as we move ‘out of error’ and ‘forward into light’.” ◀



Leaving Helena, Montana, 2019

Leaving Helena, Montana, 2019

“A friend and I took an overnight train from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, a 13-hour journey. You drive over passes, things ring, train horns ring. Your body is rocking all the time. We hardly slept. Alice Paul sent hundreds of women to the western states for this campaign and gave them no time to sleep. You were on the trains overnight. They made three to four speeches a day. One of the speakers was Harriet Stanton Blatch, the 60-year-old daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She had to stop after a few months. Other women got sick and stopped too. “



Arrival, Chicago IL, 2019



Arrival, Chicago IL, 2019

“On the first leg of the trip, Inez and her sister Vida took a 17-hour train ride from New York to Chicago. Inez felt terrible. Then she saw one of the first doctors. On the next leg, from Chicago to Cheyenne, Vida arranged for them to get into someone’s private car, and then the press had a huge backlash about it, so they couldn’t do that afterwards. Vida had sciatica and had to lug her suitcase because Inez couldn’t. “



Suffrage dress, 2019



“Inez was considered what they called the New Woman. She was beautiful, outgoing, flirtatious, but she was also trying to really change things. She shared a radical vision of what the suffrage could be with the UK electorate and brought it to the American scene. During the election campaign she wore a white dress. In the margins of her letters, she writes that it is important that her dress is right. They even sent a seamstress to fix it because she wore it so often. “



Arsenic and Strychnine, The Sunset Club, Seattle WA, 2018



Arsenic and Strychnine, The Sunset Club, Seattle WA, 2018

“I read somewhere that Inez suffered from pernicious anemia during her campaign. She also developed tonsillitis and strep throat. The tonsillitis was so bad that the doctors wanted to operate immediately, but she wanted to continue. The doctors prescribed her arsenic and iron. She personally doubled and tripled her dose to keep going. Knowing what was coming, it was really sad to read her letters to her husband. She said she was feeling better and they would have a baby when she came back. “



We won’t fall in 2019



We won’t fall in 2019

“I have the feeling that Inez and her colleagues have given all women the right to vote. Perhaps the 19th Amendment didn’t achieve this, but we kept fighting anyway, trying again and again. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a white woman portrayed as the champion for the right to vote. I tried to involve different age groups, races and nationalities to represent Inez and have different women stand up for her. ‘We Will Not Fall Down’ was a nice attempt to show a diverse group of people coming together to have the possibility of a better future. “



Banner / Forward out of the dark …

Banner / Forward out of the dark …

“I came across the suffrage movement through the anti-slavery movement. Some of the key players in the anti-slavery movement had traveled to the UK to attend this huge anti-slavery meeting, but they were female and were not allowed to attend the meeting. But I think what caught my eye is that Inez is carrying a banner with the last line saying “Forward into the Light”. My previous book was called Through Darkness into Light, so I took this as a sign that Inez would be the person I would follow. I started researching her. “