Hundreds of women celebrated the right to vote Saturday in downtown St. Louis by re-enacting a suffragette protest that took place on Locust Street during the Democratic National Convention of 1916.
The League of Women Voters invited the women to dress in white, wear sashes and carry golden umbrellas just like an estimated 3,000 suffragettes did during the original protest, when they waged a “walkless, talkless” protest by lining the street the male delegates had to walk from their hotel to the convention.
Soon after, the delegation added a plank in support of the suffragist movement to the Democratic Party’s platform.
Margot McMillen wrote about the historic event in “Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History.” Her book inspired the theme for the League of Women Voters’ get out the vote event, which also provided an opportunity for people to register to vote ahead of the November elections.
Danielle Kozemczak brought her 9-year-old daughter, Evelyn Haegele, to take part.
“I realized last year that it’s been less than a hundred years since we had the vote. And I think you realize that they could take that away. That’s kind of scary. So when you have a daughter you want to make sure those rights continue,” Kozemczak said.
Kozemczak’s group, the Mourning Society of St. Louis, started the short parade re-enacting the protest wearing period garb. They circled the block around the park at 14th Street and Olive Boulevard before lining the steps up of the Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library.
Second in line came women from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, dressed in their signature red.
Call for more inclusive women's movement
Before the parade got underway, the League of Women Voter’s emcee announced that women of color had participated in the 1916 protest.
Near the end of the long, snaking line of mostly white women interspersed with African-American groups like the NAACP came about a dozen Black Lives Matter activists chanting “Black women matter” and carrying signs that read “White Silence is Violence” and “White People We Need to Talk.”
The emcee and some members of the crowd joined in with the chant.
“I felt like it was important being a black person, being a black woman that I needed to be out here to stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and walk in a march that we weren’t privileged to walk in before, at least not in the front,” said Black Lives Matter activist Tosha Baker.
“I think that women of color need to be more visible as we’re celebrating the suffragette movement,” said Rev. Melissa Bennett.
The two women walked the parade arm in arm with their fists raised.
“We’re here to widen the scope of this idea of what (the) women’s movement is. We’re trying to emphasize the fact that not every woman got the vote in 1919. And certainly not every woman was fully included in the Golden Lane walk of 1916,” said activist Darlene Hawkerself, who organized the group’s participation in the re-enactment after her friend Amy Hunter brought it to her attention.
“So far, people seem to be taking it in, and we do believe there’s been a slight shift in the message and we’re very hopeful about it,” Hawkerself added.
Hawkerself said, however, that the segregated groups and emphasis on the inclusion of women of color in the 1916 protest fell short.
“I think we often pull up individual examples where groups did something right,” Hawkerself said. “We need to raise up our history. But we also need to interpret it through a critical lens and not interpret it as some benevolent, wonderful liberation that was liberation for all women. It was not.”
League of Women Voters-Metro St. Louis member Gwen Moore said her organization’s mission is to educate voters and help people register to vote that might have barriers, such as immigrants and people who have been in prison.
“Wasn’t this beautiful?” Moore said of the re-enactment. “It’s so important to remember what it took to get here. Unlike many other advanced nations we still haven’t elected our first woman president yet.”
Moore said the focus on race relations highlighted by the Black Lives Matter activists is also important as part of the conversation following racial upheaval that began in Ferguson in 2014.
“In fact, if you know the history of voting, it was white women that helped to get voting for black men. And black men had the vote, ex-slaves had the vote, 50 years before white women or black women got the right to vote,” Moore said. “It’s a power thing.”
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.