Today, the name Inez Milholland is familiar to more Americans than ever before. It has appeared on buttons, signs, tee shirts, sashes, exhibits, marquees and more this past year. The increased public awareness is due at least in part to the yearlong Inez Milholland Centennial campaign that began in late 2015 under the auspices of the National Women’s History Project.
The campaign set out to raise the profile of Inez, a prominent New York suffragist and attorney who became a symbol of the work and sacrifice that went into winning Votes for Women 100 years ago. Inez was only thirty when she died in Los Angeles after a grueling 1916 speaking tour for equal suffrage. Her death of exhaustion and pernicious anemia saddened, angered and inspired women throughout the country. Her fellow suffragists started picketing the White House on January 10, 1917, just weeks after her memorial in the U.S. Capitol.
In addition to their educational work, Centennial project co-chairs Marguerite Kearns and Robert P.J. Cooney Jr. set in motion the nomination of Inez for a Presidential Citizens Medal. Their online petition drew over 1,000 signatures supporting her nomination.
“Although President Obama didn’t recognize Inez – or anyone else – with a Presidential Citizens Medal in 2016,” Kearns noted, “we succeeded in bringing the past, present, and future together. Inez’s memory is alive again.” Kearns is a writer specializing in women’s history and the granddaughter of suffrage activist Edna Kearns, whose suffrage campaign wagon, the “Spirit of 1776,” will be on exhibit at the New York State Museum during 2017 (SuffrageWagon.org).
“Our work continues to honor Inez and all American suffragists so they can take their rightful place in history,” said Cooney, author of “Remembering Inez,” a tribute to the suffrage martyr, and “Winning the Vote,” a suffrage history. “We are heartened by the warm reception and high-profile publicity Inez received.”
The Centennial project’s goal was substantially enhanced by filmmaker Martha Wheelock, who created a 15-minute film, “Forward Into Light,” on Inez. Martha has already distributed the DVD free to thousands of individuals, community organizations, policymakers and educators (InezMilholland.org).
The Centennial web site (InezMilhollandCentennial.com) will continue to offer information, news and resources as we approach 2020, the nation’s suffrage centennial. New York is celebrating its suffrage centennial in 2017 since women in that state won the vote in 1917 after a hard fought, wartime campaign. As a New Yorker who campaigned for Votes for Women for many years, Inez will draw additional attention to the heroic drive for American women’s voting rights.
The National Women’s History Project (nwhp.org) is a 501(c)3 organization that has been educating the public for more than 35 years about the importance of including women in American history. Recognizing Inez’s role leading the first inaugural women’s march in the nation’s capitol, the NWHP became a sponsor of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017. The NWHP has launched the Women’s History Alliance (nwhp.org/the-womens-history-alliance/) to bring together the increasing number of supporters interested in specific programs that honor multicultural women in the United States.
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