Inez Milholland

Inez Milholland

They are crying salt tears
Over the beautiful beloved body
Of Inez Milholland,
Because they are glad she lived,
Because she loved open-armed,
Throwing love for a cheap thing
Belonging to everybody---
Cheap as sunlight,
And morning air.

--- Carl Sandburg (1918)

          The grave of Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916) lies at the crest of a low hill in the village of Lewis where she spent many summers roaming the nearby fields of her father’s family home. She lived only thirty years, yet hers was a life that touched the pages of history far beyond Lewis and Essex County and the Adirondacks. She was America’s model of the New Woman---possessing a brilliant mind and an independent spirit, in addition to being beautiful and alluring. She successfully integrated her feminine self and romantic passions with the rowdy masculine world of politics.

          She was an athlete, social worker, pacifist, lawyer, and more, but it was as a militant suffragist that she gained fame. In McClure’s magazine, Inez explained her reason for joining the suffrage movement, saying “I am trying to discharge my own individual debt to society by improving the conditions of life for women and children. And that is all.” Although, another time, she said, “Almost the best reason I know for being a suffragist is that there is so much fun and gladness in it.”

          Inez had a flair for adding drama to the cause. Wearing a long white cape, seated on a white horse, she led an army of women down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1913. She traveled across the country in 1916, campaigning against President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election and for a federal amendment giving women the right to vote. She worked night and day, until she collapsed, and died on November 25, 1916, at age 30. 

Inez Milholland

Official Washington D.C. Program and Inez Milholland Boissevain at a women's suffrage parade in New York City, May 3, 1913

Images courtesy of Library of Congress

A memorial service was held in her honor in the United States Capitol, the first ever held in that building for a woman, and according to some, it was the most beautiful ever held. A chorus of youths walked into the hall, chanting:

Forward, out of error,
Leave behind the night,
Forward through the darkness,
Forward into light.

          Maud Younger gave the memorial address: “She [Inez Milholland] was the flaming torch that went ahead to light the way - the symbol of light and freedom....With new devotion we go forth, inspired by her sacrifice to the end that this sacrifice be not in vain.” 

          Inez became the martyr of the American suffrage movement. A depiction of her on a white horse became an emblem of the National Woman’s Party. In 1924, the party held a grand memorial to her in Lewis. An estimated 10,000 people gathered in a field in the Adirondack woods to honor the life of Inez Milholland.

Inez Milholland

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

Inez Milholland