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“The Most Beautiful Suffragette“: Inez Milholland and the Political Currency of Beauty1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 November 2010

Ann Marie Nicolosi
The College of New Jersey


This article examines the role of beauty and image in the U.S. suffrage movement. It focuses specifically on Inez Milholland and on how she and the movement capitalized on her extraordinary beauty and used her image and media popularity to present an icon for the movement, thereby softening and making acceptable the spectacle of women in public spaces and political matters. Milholland provided the movement with a representation that undermined the association of female political participation with masculine women and gender transgression. She provided a constructed model of acceptable white femininity, one that answered the anti-suffrage movement's accusations that suffragists were masculine women, inverts, and “abnormal” women whose lobbying for the vote was proof of their wretched state. Milholland thereby helped to bring women into the movement who might fear the taint of masculinity and gender transgression.

Copyright © Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2007

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2 National Woman's Party Papers: The Suffrage Years, 1913-1920 (NWPSY) (Sanford, NC, 1981), Reel 95.

3 C.W. Gustin, “Election Day!,” (1909), “Votes for Women: Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920,” Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-51821].

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22 “Vassar Girls' Field Day,” NYT, May 9, 1909, p. 8.

23 “Vassar's Head Indignant,” NYT, June 10, 1908, p. 7.

24 “Lusitania to Have a New Commander,” ATT, Aug. 22, 1908, p. 7

25 Unsigned letter, no date, Inez Milholland Papers [Hereafter IM Papers], Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge. Microfilm Edition, 1981, Folder 16.

26 “Vassar Students are Now Radicals,” NYT, May 9, 1909, p. 8.

27 “Miss Milholland Won't Surrender,” NYT, Oct. 24, 1909, p. 19.

28 “Retains Miss Milholland,” NYT, June 30, 1913, p. 3.

29 “Facing Starvation To Keep Up Strike,” NYT, Dec. 25, 1909, p. 2.

30 “Suffragist Attacks Gaynor,” NYT, April 9, 1911, p. 4.

31 “Seeking Notoriety,” Fort Wayne Daily News, April 28, 1914, p. 7.

32 Undated memo, IM Papers, Folder 22.

33 “Fashion's Fads and Fancies,” Washington Post, Feb. 21, 1911, p. 7.

34 “The Spokesman for Suffrage in America,” McClure's Magazine, July 1912, pp. 335–37Google Scholar ; Milholland, Inez, “The Liberation of a Sex,” McClure's Magazine, Feb. 1913, pp. 181–88Google Scholar.

35 “‘Throw-Away-Your Corset’ Crusade Opens Here Today,” Washington Post, March 1, 1912, p. 7.

36 Inez Milholland to Jean Torry Milholland. n.d., John A. Milholland Papers, private collection. Quoted in Lumsden, Inez 39.

37 Stevens, Isaac Newton, American Suffragette: A Novel (New York, 1911), 57.Google Scholar

38 Belmont divorced her first husband, William Vanderbilt, for his infidelity, scandalizing Gilded Age society but becoming immensely rich in the process. Her second husband, Oliver Belmont, whose family was in banking, died in 1908, leaving Alva a very rich widow indeed.

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56 Paul's construction of beauty was limited to white women. Black women were not welcome in the frontal ranks. For a good discussion on the racial tensions of the march, see , Barber, Marching on Washington, 6265Google Scholar.

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58 “Will Ride as Heralds,” Washington Post, Jan. 27, 1913, p. 2.

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60 Frederick N. McMillin to IM, March 10, 1913, IM Papers, Folder 27.

61 Although initially dismayed at the violence in the D.C. parade, Paul and fellow suffragists benefited from the widespread sympathetic coverage of the parade and the police investigation that followed.

62 “10,000 Marchers in Suffrage Parade,” NYT, May 4, 1913, p. 1.

63 “Mock Suffragists Startle Broadway,” NYT, May 16, 1913, p. 11.

64 “Suffragists Excite the Evils They Claim to Decry, Says ‘Anti,’” Washington Post, May 6, 1913, p. 4.

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74 “Inez Milholland Not to Wed,” NYT, Dec. 9, 1910, p. 11.Google Scholar

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80 Ida Furney Mackville to Doris Stevens, Oct. 14, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

81 Mackville to Stevens; see reel 34 for numerous telegrams between Milholland and Paul, and between Paul and other tour participants on this topic.

82 Abby Scott Baker to Alice Paul, Oct. 12, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

83 Alice Paul to Mrs. Robert Adamson, Oct. 11 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

84 Beauty of Suffrage Ranks Coming Here,” Nevada State Journal, Oct. 15, 1916, p. 6.Google Scholar

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86 Alice B. Henkle to the Suffragist, Oct. 12, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

87 She might have been suffering from pernicious anemia, a rare disorder in which the body does not absorb enough vitamin B12 from the digestive tract, resulting in an inadequate amount of red blood cells. Today the disease is easily managed by administering B12. There is some confusion as to whether she had pernicious anemia or aplastic anemia, in which the capacity of the bone marrow to generate red blood cells is defective. There is also the possibility that she was suffering from leukemia.

88 IM to Eugen Boissevain, n.d., 1916, IM Papers, Folder 5.

89 “Oust Wilson, Women Urge,” Idaho Statesman, Oct. 10, 1916, p. 1.Google Scholar

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91 Stevens, Doris, Jailed for Freedom (1920, New York, 1971), 48.Google Scholar

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93 Alice Paul to Inez Milholland (telegram), Oct. 23, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

94 Dr. Catherine Lynch to Alice Paul (telegram), Oct. 25, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

95 Alice Paul to Emily Perry (telegram), Oct. 26, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 34.

96 Alice Paul to Emily Perry (telegram), Oct. 29, 1916, NWPSY, Reel 35.

97 , Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, 49.Google Scholar

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100 Although commonly referred to as Mount Inez, the name was never officially changed.

101 By-Laws of the Inez Milholland Memorial Committee of the National Woman's Party” National Woman's Party Papers (Glen Rock, NJ, 1972), Reel 116.Google Scholar

102 Field, “Poet and Suffragist.”

103 “Inez Milholland Masque,” NYT, Jan. 27, 1924, p. 23. This event created a controversy for the NWP as Alice Paul refused to let three African-American friends of Milholland speak at the memorial, causing John Milholland to speak out against the snub. “Sees Snub to Negro by Woman's Party,” NYT Aug. 18, 1924, pp. 1, 4.

104 “Mrs. Boissevain, Suffrage Martyr, an Inspiration for Statue by Paul Swan,” Fort Wayne Daily News, Jan. 1, 1917, p. 6.Google Scholar

105 Londraville, Janis, “Paul Swan: The Art of ‘The Most Beautiful Man in the World’” in Prodigal Father Revisited: Artists and Writers in the World of John Sutler Yeats, ed. Londraville, Janis (West Cornwall, CT, 2003), 331–50.Google Scholar

106 Clark, Electa, Leading Ladies: An Affectionate Look at American Women of the Twentieth Century (New York, 1976), 168–69.Google Scholar

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