Today we would be remiss if we did not talk about Suffragist Inez Milholland Boissevain as she was born in New York on this day, August 6th, in 1886. Her parents, John and Jean Milholland, were dedicated activists who fought for a variety of the social causes taking place during the early 1900’s including civil rights and workers’ rights. John Milholland was born to Irish immigrants in New York but would be raised in Ireland before returning to the states for college. John was able to amass wealth by investing in a pneumatic tube company which would give him the ability to move his family to London. John, who often traveled back to New York for work, frequently donated large amounts of money to civil rights organizations, and non-profits focused on low income African American communities and affordable housing. Milholland helped fund the Constitution League, which would later become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), even serving as their first treasurer. Despite this wealth Inez, and her sister Vida, attended a non-denominational private school that was notable for its class equality. A crucial aspect of the school’s curriculum was community service and Inez often worked at local soup kitchens. John and Jean Milholland frequently hosted activists from various movements at their London home, including Irish revolutionaries. It is no surprise that Inez, and her sister Vida, grew up to become strong activists themselves.
Just like yesterday’s #19SuffrageStories focus, Lucy Burns, Inez was a member of the younger, more aggressive group of suffragists that had been exposed to the militant tactics of the British Suffrage Movement. Inez returned to the United States to attend Vassar College and was very engaged in on campus activist movements including the unrecognized Socialist Club. In defiance of the school’s rule not to host speakers and discussions regarding suffrage, Inez led a crowd of her fellow classmates to a nearby cemetery to hear a movement speaker. After graduating, Inez toured the country as an orator for suffrage while applying to a variety of law schools, only to be denied due to her sex. She would eventually be admitted to New York University School of Law and would participate in suffrage protests and workers strikes while studying to become a lawyer. Perhaps the most distinguishable photos of Inez show her leading the 1913 suffrage parade scheduled before Wilson’s inauguration, mentioned in yesterday’s post as being organized by Lucy Burns and Alice Paul. She rode through the crowd atop a white horse, adorned in a white cape and a crown, riding through the jeers of counter protestors. Considered abnormally beautiful, Inez would use her good looks to attract large groups to hear her speak, before blowing crowds away with her intellect.
Inez was a strong and dedicated member of the women’s suffrage movement, among many others, but was privately struggling with her health. Suffering from pernicious anemia, Inez ignored the suggestions from doctors that she slow down. Tragically, Inez succumbed to these health issues, making her a martyr among the movement. On October 19th, 1916 during an impassioned speech in LA Inez shouted “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” before collapsing. These would be the last words she spoke publicly before being rushed off stage and fighting for weeks before succumbing to her condition.
Inez’s death led her sister, suffragist and pacifist Vida Milholland, to become even more involved in the movement. Tomorrow we will talk more about Vida and the contributions that she made.