This fabulous garment is a green and pink cotton flannel cape, almost certainly worn by a participant in the 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C.  Alas, I can only say “almost certainly.”  The cape was donated in 1968 by Miss Mildred N. Getty of Silver Spring.  Our various inventories and catalog cards from the 1960s and ’70s all say some version of “worn in a suffragette parade, DC”; some add that it was worn by Mrs. Louise Burr Getty (the donor’s mother) while riding horseback in said parade.  The question of ‘which parade’ is made somewhat easy by the fact that Mrs. Getty (who has appeared on this blog before) died in October 1913, meaning it most likely was the  Washington, D.C. parade held on March 3rd, 1913.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) planned this large pageant/parade/demonstration for the day before President Wilson’s first inauguration, the point being, ‘look at all these people who were not able to choose the leader of their country.’  The event is generally credited to Alice Paul, though of course many other women worked hard to recruit and organize participants, secure a permit for Pennsylvania Avenue, design the tableaux, create the floats and costumes, etcetera.  Over 8,000 people took part in March 3rd event, which turned into a near-riot as the audience – anti-suffragists, supporters and curious on-lookers alike – swarmed the street and caused havoc until the U.S. Cavalry (called in from Fort Myer) rode in to restore order. 

The Washington Post covered the parade with some thoroughness. The descriptions of the NAWSA preparations* were fairly helpful as I attempted to discover the truth behind Mrs. Getty’s cape, but only in a general sense. Yes, there were many women riding on horseback – called the “Petticoat Cavalry” – and yes, some members of the cavalry were supposed to wear different colored capes, coordinating with the different parade divisions.  There were frequent mentions of “Washington society girls” and “prominent women” planning to take part, but Mrs. Getty’s name was not specifically mentioned.  A few articles noted that participants would include students from the National Park Seminary in Forest Glen – which the donor herself was attending in 1913 – but again, the Getty name was not mentioned. Our Seminary collections include some material from the early teens (and some was given by Miss Getty), but a quick survey did not reveal anything clearly related to the parade. 

The weekly Montgomery County Sentinel did not mention the parade at all in the issue following the event.  The week prior it said only, at the end of an article about the upcoming presidential inauguration, “On March 3rd, the suffragists will have a procession on Pennsylvania Avenue. . . . The novel scene will attract many to the city to see it.  A large number of persons of this county anticipate viewing the parade, providing the weather on that day is pleasant.”

The various authors of the Annals of Sandy Spring (1863-1962, six volumes) recorded the activities of residents of that neighborhood.  The work of Mrs. Caroline H. Miller in the formation and leadership of the Sandy Spring Women’s Suffrage Association (later the Woman Suffrage Association of Maryland) was duly noted.**  Knowing this, I checked the Annals for 1913 and indeed, there are several paragraphs about the “unique event” held on March 3rd.  Ten Sandy Spring residents, men and women, attended the parade.  The author decried the lack of police protection “which marred the effect of what otherwise would have been a wonderful pageant. [Altogether it was] an effective procession in which some of the finest women of the country took part.” 

Mrs. Getty, 1898. MCHS Library.

Thus we know that some Montgomery County residents took part in the parade, but there’s still no definite proof that Mrs. Getty was one of them. She was known to be a good rider, who raised and trained her own horses; she was a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Woodside; she belonged to the Silver Spring Home Interest Club – but of her personal politics we have no evidence, other than this cape. My predecessors’ catalog notes are helpful, but we don’t have quite that perfect chain of paperwork proving that we didn’t get the story wrong somewhere in the translation. I don’t really disbelieve it, but I want proof! So the search continues.

Reading the Post’s articles about the March 3rd parade was very, very interesting.  Even the various uses of “suffragist” and “suffragette” did not follow my expectations, as at least one leader declared that she preferred the seemingly-derogatory “suffragette.”  Organizers were concerned that all participants make a good impression, as they knew that the eyes of the world – many of them eager to find fault – would be upon them.  Nor was participation taken lightly; some women were afraid they’d lose their jobs, and others – many of them related to government and military officials – marched in spite of family objections. Counter-protests and pranks were planned ahead of time by those who wanted to see the cause, or just the women themselves, fail.  The descriptions of the march itself are downright harrowing; the women faced verbal and physical abuse from some of the crowd, but the marchers “for the most part kept their temper” as they passed “through two walls of antagonistic humanity.” 

One-half of a stereograph view of the parade, from the Library of Congress collections

* Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from articles in the Washington Post, January – March 1913.  Many but not all come from “Suffragists Take City for Pageant” (March 2) and “Women’s Beauty, Grace and Art Bewilder the Capital” (March 4). Citations available if you need ‘em.

** Upon the group’s formation in 1888, the author of the Annals noted that it “started with a smaller membership than the well-known feminine independence of Sandy Spring would lead one to suppose possible.”