Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alma Nash, 1883-1965
By Dr. Elyssa Ford
Associate Professor of History, Northwest Missouri State University
Conductor, Missouri Ladies Military Band and suffragist
Alma Mae Nash was born June 14, 1883, in Maryville, Missouri, to Mary C. (Houston) Nash and George A. Nash. She attended the Maryville Seminary where she studied string instruments, and she later opened a private teaching studio in town. Around 1911 she formed an all-women's band, and it was her role as the band's conductor that brought her directly into the suffrage movement. The Missouri Ladies Military Band travelled to Washington, D.C., for the national women's suffrage parade held on March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.
At the turn of the century, Maryville was a community where discussions about women's suffrage occurred regularly. Groups like the literary society and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) invited renowned suffrage leaders to town, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Helen Keller. Though the historical records do not tell us whether Alma was in attendance at any of the local suffrage speeches, she clearly was drawn to the cause.
In January 1913, Alma received permission for her group to participate in the national suffrage parade. The organizer expressed excitement about them because they were the only participating band who identified a specific interest in women's voting rights. To attend, the band received funds from the national suffrage organization and Maryville businessmen, and they supplied money themselves. They also had to quickly find accommodations, organize uniforms, practice the music, and learn to march, as they primarily had been a concert band up to that point.
On Saturday, March 1st, twenty-two band members, plus Alma Nash and her mother as a chaperone, left town via railroad. They performed on the train and made stops to give concerts and meet well-wishers. Because the snow in Missouri had limited them to indoor rehearsals, they scheduled a stop to practice marching outside at least one time. They arrived in D.C. on Monday morning, just hours before the parade.
Even though there was a congressional investigation into the violence and crowds that threatened the suffrage parade, the Maryville band members had a different experience. For them, it was chaotic but wholly enjoyable. Alma Nash explained that the band originally was placed close to the front, following a group on horseback and then officers of the National Equal Suffrage Association. Because the streets were too crowded, the parade could not begin. The Missouri Ladies Military Band was asked to move to the very front and lead the way by playing music and helping to separate the crowd.
After the parade and pageant that followed it, the young women became tourists. They went to the presidential inauguration parade, the Supreme Court, and a speech by suffragist Anna Howard Shaw. They also met with Missouri members of Congress, though it appears to have been a meeting for pleasure rather than the business of suffrage.
After returning home, many of the women lived quiet lives, though their on-going support for suffrage is apparent. One band member reported that when the 19th Amendment passed, she was in a general store and was so excited that she stood on the counter and danced. Alma continued to teach music and moved with her mother to Kansas City after her father died in 1915. She lived in Kansas City until her death on December 22, 1965, and she is buried in Miriam Cemetery in Maryville. While she was not a central leader on the national or state-level fight for women's suffrage, Alma Nash - and her band - are enshrined in the mythology, disorder, and historical significance of the 1913 parade, and she and the band members stand as examples of ordinary women and their involvement in the push for women's right to vote.
Photograph of band in the parade: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.11404/
Photograph of Alma Nash
Alma M. Nash, Trap Drummer
Nodaway County Historical Society, Maryville, Missouri,
Archival and artifact collections, including personal papers, diaries, postcards, and photographs from Alma Nash and band members, are available at the Nodaway County Historical Society in Maryville, MO. Reports of Nash's leadership of the band and of the parade experience are in regional newspapers, including: Barnard Bulletin, Burlington Junction Post, Clearmont News, Clyde Times, Conception Junction Courier, Elmo Register, Green and White Courier, Hopkins Journal, Maryville Daily Democrat Forum, Maryville Daily Forum, Maryville Daily Tribune, Maryville Weekly Democrat-Forum, Parnell Sentinel, Ravenwood Gazette, Skidmore New Era (available on microfilm at Northwest Missouri State University and the Nodaway County Historical Society). Other newspapers, including: Chicago Tribune, Emporia Gazette, Kansas City Times, St. Joseph Gazette, New York Times, Washington Post provide additional accounts of the parade and discuss the role of the band (available from various sources, including online archives, www.newspapers.com, and microfilm collections at Northwest Missouri State University). The Library of Congress has a drawing of the “Suffrage March Line” by Winsor McCay, with the likely position of the Missouri Ladies Military Band marked near the start of the parade. Additional information on Nash is available in locally published manuscripts by Martha Cooper: “Star Gazing in Nodaway County, MO.: Alma Nash, Musician-Director” (1997), available in the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library and Suffrage Comes to the Women of Nodaway County, Missouri (Accent Printing, 1997), available at the Nodaway County Historical Society.