Nellie Bly tells How Suffragists Won the Capital

This is a transcript of Nellie’s March 3rd, 1913, article in the New York Evening Post which can be viewed and read (with difficulty!) here. I’ve made my own transcript (as I did for many of her articles when I was working on The Girl Puzzle) and added some illustrations of my own choosing. In a couple of places I have used xxx when I just couldn’t decipher a word!

Nellie Bly, New York Evening Post 3/3/13


By Nellie Bly

Washington, March 3 – I have stunning riding togs. Everybody said so and I believed them. They were of this new gray tweet, dotted all over with my favorite emerald green. The hat matched and with the small feather on the side, was quite fetching. Yes, of course, trousers and a long coat, which just missed the top of my boots.

I arrived in Washington at 7.30. I should have slept the six hours preceding but I didn’t. I was listening, unwillingly I confess, but with wakeful interest, to the strange unearthly and like-no-other-sounds which emanate from the throat of men in their hour of rest. The weirdness of these sounds and their variety offers a vast field for research to those who have the time and inclination.

I said ‘How do you do?’ to the sun. It was beautiful and the air was like a breath of Summer. The rain the night before made the streets look as if they had just finished off their morning bath.

It was a morning to live. It was 9 o’clock when six of us, all women and all riding astride, pulled up before the headquarters of the National Suffrage Society. The rooms were already filled with workers and visitors. A curious and interested crowd was gathered on the pavement in front, both men and women.

In Stunning Togs

Two by two we rode out Pennsylvania Avenue along by the Capitol, and every other street between this and the end of the world. I can’t tell you the streets, I don’t believe anyone else could. Some were paved, some cobbled and some mud puddles.

Our leader, Miss Wimsatt(?), had type-written instructions to go to a certain locality to meet General Rosalie Jones and her pilgrims and escort them into Washington.

Every road we travelled had groups of people gathered on the sidewalks, paved and otherwise. From all sides came friendly greetings. No one treated us like strangers. The colored men, women and children gave us their good wishes and the white people kept asking us which way the ‘hikers’ were coming.

Automobiles and people on bicycles followed us. Finally, somewhere on the fringe of the earth, we met a taxi containing Miss Paul. We held a parley but she did not know any better than we did where we were to meet the pilgrims, so back we started to go to Eighth and something.

Right here let me give you a gentle suggestion. If you have not ridden a horse in sixteen years, and if you have ever ridden astride in a man’s saddle, and if you are riding the roughest horse that ever trotted on steel shoes, a horse that hasn’t a glimmer of acquaintance with and an utter indifference to a curb, don’t ride that horse between a snorting steam engine and a motor cycle with a muffler sounding like the bombardment of Turkey. I did.

I knew I was going and I went right over that horse’s head. Stunning togs, swell hat and mighty good-looking girl! But I went, just the same, landed on my feet, and back I was on the horse again before I had time to think—don’t know how I did it. It was one of those sudden things that one does in a hurry and never can tell afterwards how it really happened.

Rosalie Arrives

Finally, as if by magic, the people along the way began to call to us that Rosalie Jones and her army had entered Washington by a different route and were already at the suffrage headquarters.

Immediately I hailed two men in an automobile—I don’t know who they were, but they were good fellows, anyhow. “I want to catch Rosalie Jones,” I said. “Will you take me in your automobile?” Turning my horse over to a colored man on the sidewalk, I jumped in with the two good strangers and off we flew as fast a solid tires and gasoline would take us, with some little regard for Washington laws.

In a short time we found the line of parade. I saw leading it Miss Paul in her taxi.

Out of the stranger’s auto I jumped, pushed through the mass of people on the walk and into Miss Paul’s car. Then all was serene.

Behind us came Rosalie Jones and her army, before us the moving picture man, and along the way a solid packed wall of thousands and thousands of friendly people. There were thousands. The police, mounted and on foot, could scarcely keep them back. At times we were stalled until the way could be cleared, and everybody was friendly. I did not hear a single unkind or mocking word. I did hear many words of praise and encouragement.

General Rosalie Jones and hikers arrive in DC for the Suffrage Parade (wikicommons)

Wonderful Change

It means much. We must realize it. It is not a fad. It is not a whim. It is not an amusement. It means a changing of all things for men and women. It not(sic) individual; it is not one class; it is unity of womanhood.

I looked at Rosalie Jones and I felt tears in my eyes. Little, frail, thin, with big dark eyes and a pretty, appealing, heart-warming face. On her head was a soft-brown hat, wide of rim and bare of trimming. Over it canton flannel cape.(sic) In her hand was a long stick and tied to it a bunch of red roses.

Modest, quiet, unassuming, sympathetic, she marched along, and back of her, holding their sticks in a straight line before them, came her courageous army. Each one wore the brown cape and hood of canton flannel. They looked like pictures one sees of hermit monks.

Finally the long march was finished. Rosalie Jones passed the Capitol and ended her famous walk at the door of the suffrage headquarters.

Miss Paul’s taxi stopped and Miss Jones left her army and came into the taxi with us. I helped her up on the seat and presented her with a huge bouquet of pink roses, which Miss Paul had brought for her.

Suffrage Parade plan (wikicommons)

Miss Jones Talks

The crowd through which with difficulty the police had forced a way sufficient to let us through, packed us in from building line to building line, and as far east and west as we could see. Windows were filled and everybody was cheering. “There is no use trying to speak,” Miss Jones said to me. “No one could hear me.”

“It does not matter if they don’t hear,” I answered. “You must speak to let them know you can at the end of your long tramp.”

Some one offered a megaphone, and through it from the seat of the taxi she spoke to that surging, cheering, welcoming mass of men and women. Then we went into headquarters.

And all day and until late at night the crowd packed the street in front and would not go away.

I love the suffrage headquarters. There is a strange fascination about it. I always intend to stay only a few moments. I stay hours. It’s always packed and no beehive was ever busier. There is no class difference here. All work together as equals and without friction. I meant all day to write. I made promises which I did not keep for luncheon, drives and theatre.

It was five o’clock when Lady Patricia Street, in a blue gown, the shade of her eyes, and a new straw hat, caught me by the arm.

“Come along, Nellie Bly,” she said, “I am going to have a manicure and a hairdress.”

“I’ll go along for the manicure part,” I said, and then some one took me by the arm.

 “You are coming with me,” she said, and proceeded to pull me along.

She was also blue eyed. She also wore a gown the exact shade of her eyes and so was her hat.

Does Not Flatter Self

I somehow felt glad I wore my green hat and my beautiful jade beads. They match my eyes. Some persons with a mistaken idea that I might not like to confess to having green eyes have called them black and gray and blue. Or they may have been colorblind. But I always know the truth.

Well, my jade beads and myself were going along with the lady in blue and she held tight to my arm and walked fast.

“You haven’t the slightest idea who I am,” she laughed gleefully.

“Oh, yes, I have,” I answered.

 “Who,” she demanded.

 “A good fellow,” I replied, “and you don’t know who I am, don’t ask and let’s have a good time.”

 We entered a hotel. Standing in the lobby were two men and a perfect flower of a young girl.

Cover of program for March 3, 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession (wikicommons)

A Distinguished Party

“This is my daughter,” said the lady in blue, proudly, “and this is my husband and this is Mr Milholland, the father of Miss Milholland, the suffragette.”

We went in to tea.

“Why all this green?” asked Mr Milholland.

“Can you look at my nose and ask that?” I laughed.

“When did you arrive?” he retorted.

“I haven’t arrived,” I said. “I am on the way.”

“If I could copyright your smile I could make a million dollars on it,” he said.

“And if I use it in court I get fined, and sentenced to jail.”

Then it turned out that the lady in blue is Mrs Licenax and her husband, a newspaper man.

But the reason why I was too late to do more than pull into an evening gown and daub some powder on my nose, which got sunburned the morning I went on that perpetual bump searching for Rosalie Jones on the way she did not come.”

“General” Jones Banqueted

This time it was Rosalie Jones again, a banquet given for her and her pilgrims.

The rooms were packed when I got there with ‘the most beautiful, well-gowned, smiling happy lot of women I ever saw. My heart just swelled in pride of them. In my enthusiasm I wanted to call all unbelievers and scoffers hard-skulled.

Few Men at Banquet

There were a few men at the banquet to the pilgrims, although the impression had wrongly circulated that men could not attend. At a rough guess I should say there were twenty men present.

A woman said to me:

“Are those two men over there in the corner guests or waiters?”

“I do not know,” I said, “but your question proves the superiority of women in the matter of dress. You would never have to ask which were the guest and which the waitress.”

Miss Jones sat on the right of Mrs Kent who was the “chairman.” Captain Hobson, who, by the way, is unusually good looking for a man, sat on Miss Jones’s left. I faced Miss Jones with Mrs Owen Kildare on my left and Mrs. John Speel on my right.

At the extreme end of our table sat Patricia Street and Mrs Tinnin, an artist and prettier herself than any picture. Beside them sat Mr Whitman, he of recent Washington insurance investigation, and who, this day, sued Congressman Redfield of Brooklyn, a bank president of Washington, and another man for $230,000 each for conspiracy.

One woman whose name I don’t know had snow-white hair and cheeks as soft-hued as jackroses. And I believe she was within twenty years of being one hundred. Miss Loupp, who walked from New York, has cheeks as red as the lovely apples wihc draw crowds around certain Broadway windows. Mrs Ken, the chairman, has cheeks with rivaled her pink gown. She explained that Dr. Anna Shaw, who had spoken at four different places in distant cities during the day, was unable to make the opening address because her train was fifty minutes late. Miss Susan Fitzgerald of Boston spoke instead.

Speech a Revelation

I never believed the Eastern States could be so benighted until I heard her tell it. It is all planned out. Every state in the Union will grant suffrage to women before 1919 except Vermont, and it is to be the black spot in the suffrage sky until 1920.

One suffragist said: “Instead of the Pilgrims landing on the rock, the rock ought to have landed on them.”

Then Rosalie Jones spoke. The girl is so likable. She wore a low-cut gown of brown and yellow, for her own pilgrim color and for the suffragette I presume. A band of yellow was her headdress and no jewelry. But on her breast the gold button with seven stars showing the seven suffragettes and the simple yet wonderful words “Votes for Women.”

“Once women could only sit in galleries and watch men eat, but since we started for Washington we found that men not only would sit in the galleries to watch us eat, but they were willing to pay for the privilege. Cardinal Gibbons told us the hearts of the legislators could not be so hard and cold as the stones our feed had trodden in our walk and that the Democratic party should help us, since nothing was as democratic as walking. Every school we passed would be dismissed so the children could come to meet and walk away(sic) with us. So enthusiastic were they that I believe if they had not been dismissed they would have played hookey.

Thanked the Press

Then Rosalie Jones did something I have not known done before. She thanked the press.

Down in Baltimore, when the wonderful, lovable William McCombs pulled off something which gave Mr. Wilson a free ticket to Washington, somebody got up and thanked everybody and everything, from the sparrows in the streets to the stars in the heavens for courtesies and aid extended to the convention but he never mentioned the press and the telegraph operators.

“Thank the press,” I said to him when he came off the platform. “They are the ones who let the country know what you were doing, they created the interest in your proceedings, they have made your names known.”

“No one ever thanks the press,” he said.

But Rosalie Jones was clever enough to know that without the power of the press she and her pilgrims could have hiked along like so many xxx (hobos?) and the straggling few who observed them on the way would not have known or understood. The power of the press has made her pilgrimage known throughout the United States and so much so in Washington that one hears of the suffragettes all of the time to the exclusion of the Presidential inauguration.

Captain Hobson Spoke Well

Captain Hobson looked handsome and spoke well. Mrs Hobson is an “axxx” he said and his only regret was that his commander-in-chief was not present.

“I will never be satisfied until my wife becomes a more ardent suffragette than General Jones,” the captain declared. “xxx is against universal suffrage xxx when he came out in favor of it the biggest politician in his district wrote him briefly, “You sure have done, gone and done it.”

In the midst of the Captain’s speech in came Dr Anna Shaw and everybody began to applaud.

The Captain stopped and then concluded:

“Henry Clay once said, ‘When eagles soar it is time for bats and owls to seek their hiding places.’ When the Admiral of the Army and Navy arrives it is time for little midshipmen to go below.”

Wonderful, gifted Anna Shaw! I thought when she rose to speak I would like to be shown a man her equal. I don’t know her age, I don’t want to, for she can’t be anything but young. She said she had been working for suffrage for forty years. She said she came to Washington solely to thank Rosalie Jones for the splendid life she had given the cause.

Anna Shaw (wikicommons)

Appreciate Hikers’ Work

“If a slight difference takes place in our ranks, the United States becomes mildly excited. If they become so inflamed in mind when differences occur in Congress, the world would consider us a mad nation. Miss Jones has done a great work, and the National Suffrage Association appreciates it. Even the threatened war with Mexico cannot exclude us from the front pages of the press. Suffrage is our cause. It is the universal cause, the cause of womanhood. We have done more than the man who told the sun to stand still. We have made it rise in the West, and it is traveling East.”