Document 20: "Race Issue Hits Feminist Party," Boston Herald, 17-18 August 1924

Document 20: "Race Issue Hits Feminist Party," Boston Herald, 17-18 August 1924, National Woman's Party Papers, 1913-1974, Library of Congress (Microfilm (1979), Reel 28).



       The interconnections of race and gender continued to plague the National Woman's Party after the controversy over the party's February 1921 convention had subsided. No matter how hard NWP leaders tried to focus exclusively on "feminist" issues, they found themselves stumbling over the issue of civil rights for African Americans.

        A memorial service for suffrage activist Inez Milholland held in August 1924 provided the next major incident revealing the racial insensitivity of party leaders. Inez Milholland had been a prominent suffragist and an equally avid advocate of the rights of working women and African Americans.[19] Inez Milholland was a lawyer and feminist who gained national attention by riding a white horse in a major suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. in 1913.[20] Some of the suffragists objected to having Black women march in the parade, but Inez Milholland attempted to secure equal rights for all women regardless of race, and insisted they be included. Leaders in the NAACP believed that Inez Milholland would not have endorsed female candidates who used racist tactics to achieve electoral victory. As the enclosed article from the NWP papers shows, three African American friends of the family attended the memorial service, but were not permitted to speak until Milholland's father broke into the ceremony with a brief, heartfelt speech on the importance of equal rights to his late daughter. The NWP's commitment to the election of women candidates and the "southern strategy" that party leaders adopted to promote women's cause led them to slight African Americans in their ranks and betray an almost century-long tradition linking the causes of women's rights and equal rights for African Americans.


Race Issue Hits


Feminist Party

Crops up at Exercises for

Late Inez Milholland--[A]


Her Father Injects It




[Special Dispatch to the Herald]

Westport Inn, N.Y., Aug. 17 --

         Race antagonism was injected in dramatic manner today into the campaign which the National Woman's Party is to wage for the election of women congressmen who will fight for legal equality of the sexes. After a memorial service for Inez Milholland, who died Nov. 25, 1916, while campaigning for suffrage in the West, the delegates marched out of the little Congregational church at Lewis, 12 miles from here, and to the top of the nearby mountain where the feminist leader is buried.


       John E. Milholland, her father, had with him three negroes who are his house guests, Dr. Emmett J. Scott, secretary and treasurer of Howard University at Washington, D.C.; Miss Lucy Slowe, professor of the department of women at Howard University, and Mrs. A. W. Hunton of New York City, representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. None of them had been asked to participate in the program at the grave and Mr. Milholland in the midst of the services, suddenly felt unable to contain himself.


Duty To Speak Out

       "Friends of Inez," he said with obvious emotion, "I am her father and I want to say to you what I had intended to say until now, as I stand here beside her grave. I feel [a] duty to speak out. If I did not think her spirit would rise up from the grave and say to me, 'Dad, why were you afraid.'"


       "And so I want to remind you that in the first suffrage parade, Inez herself demanded that the colored women be allowed to march, and now today we were told that it would mar the program to have these guests of mine speak. I have nothing to say except that Inez believed in equal rights for everybody."


       There was a pause as Mr. Milholland finished and leaders of the party talked together in low tones and a suppressed murmur ran through the throngs of delegates.


       Then Dr. Scott was asked to say something. "Inez Milholland had the courage to face the application of democratic principles and was not afraid to follow them to their logical end." began Dr. Scott.


       "Those who fight for a fresh idea and for a great ideal do not fear to be counted as a friend of the friendless and a defender of the weak, and she was that and more. Howard University holds dear among its traditions the unflinching faith and courage of the woman who in the moment of her greatest triumph, forgot not justice and fair play."


       The party workers admitted that Mr. Milholland's outburst had caused them much uneasiness. Mrs. Gatewold Boyers explained why it was that none of the Negroes had been placed on the program.


        "We did not want it to go out," she said, "that we were bringing in the colored people. It would be bad politics. We want to try to elect some women congressmen in the southern states, and after all, this is our convention--not Mr. Milholland's."


       Miss Alice Paul of Washington, the vice-president of the party, said:


       "This was arranged as a demonstration of women and it was no place for colored people to speak. We have invited them to carry a wreath to the grave and their feelings were not hurt."





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A. To see a photograph of Inez Milholland in the 1913 suffrage parade, please follow this link to Library of Congress, American Memory site.
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