How we learned to protest


How we learned to protest


British suffragists got angry and impatient before the Americans did. Their breakaway radical faction became known as “suffragettes” - it was meant as a slur, until they adopted it proudly.

[Protest history thread.]

Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters developed confrontational tactics that horrified the UK’s suffrage establishment - and inspired American women.

Harriot Stanton Blatch lived in England and saw the Pankhursts’ impact up close. Brooklyn’s leading African-American suffragist, Sarah Smith Garnet, visited London and was impressed with what she saw. Lucy Burns and Alice Paul were American university students who joined the movement in the UK and brought home the tactics they learned there.

As these women returned to the US, they pushed American women to be more visible in their demand for the vote. That meant hitting the street.

Harriot Stanton Blatch created the Women’s Political Union (orig. the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women) in 1907 as a feistier alternative to NAWSA.

They organized the very first street protest by New York City women, in May 1910. 👇

It wasn’t the first protest in American history - there had been large labor rallies, like Haymarket in Chicago & the Uprising of 20,000 in NYC a year before. Barnstorming suffragists held open-air meetings during state campaigns as far back as 1869.

But this was the first time suffragists made their point by taking over city streets.

It wasn’t ladylike to march on the street - precisely BECAUSE it was associated with working class rabble-rousers. The matronly Woman Suffrage League of New York wasn’t eager to participate--but the march was getting so much attention they couldn’t ignore it. So they joined the “automobile procession” - which meant they barely set foot on the street.

The parade was a hit, and in 1911 the march was 8x bigger: 3,000 marched and 10,000 joined the rally at the end.

By the spring of 1912 even babies were out on the street.

And teenagers on horseback, like Mabel Ping-Hua Lee.

Eleanor Flexner points out that as the marches grew, they won the respect of New Yorkers. A reporter from the Baltimore American wrote in 1912: “All along Fifth Avenue...were gathered thousands of men and women of New York. They blocked every cross street on the line of march.

"Many were inclined to laugh and jeer, but none did.

“The sight of the impressive column of women striding five abreast up the middle of the street stifled all thought of ridicule. They were typical, womanly American women...women doctors, women lawyers, splendid in their array of academic robes; women architects, women artists, actresses and sculptors; women waitresses, domestics; a huge division of industrial workers...all marched with an intensity and purpose that astonished the crowds that lined the streets.” #CenturyofStruggle 


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “How we learned to protest,” Daily Suffragist, accessed October 6, 2022,

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