The Activist : Inez Milholland

Inez Milholland was a fierce suffragist whose work, words and actions greatly influenced the women’s movement in the United States.

Born to a wealthy family in 1886, Inez was educated in New York and London before attending Vassar College. As a student, she was known as an “active radical” – she taught her classmates the principles of socialism and held women’s right meetings, causing her to be suspended. Following her graduation from Vassar, she sought to study law but was denied access to Yale, Harvard and Cambridge due to her gender. She eventually earned a law degree at New York University in 1912.

During her life, Inez fought not only for women’s rights but also for prison reform, world peace and equal rights for African Americans and other oppressed groups. She was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), where she worked with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, and started attending suffrage parades in 1911, often leading the procession.

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Inez Milholland

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She made a strong appearance at the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington DC in March 1913, leading the parade on a white horse, wearing a crown and a long white cape. Inez enjoyed the showmanship and artistry of dressing in elaborate, beautiful costumes and making a dramatic statement with her appearance, but she was also disappointed when the press focused more on her looks than on her ideas.

Inez Milholland was also a pacifist, and she traveled to Europe at the start of the First World War to become a war correspondent. She visited the front lines of the war and wrote anti-war articles that eventually caused her to be exiled from Italy.

When she returned to the States, she joined the National Woman’s Party and went on tour to speak to people across the country, despite being diagnosed with pernicious anemia. In October 1916, she collapsed while giving a speech about women’s voting rights in Los Angeles. She was taken to a local hospital and died soon after, in November 1916, aged only 30.

Her last words at the podium, “Mr President, how long must women wait for liberty?” became famous within the women’s suffrage movement, and are still relevant to this day.

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