Inez Milholland was born and spent her early childhood in New York. In 1899, when she was thirteen, her entrepreneur father moved his family to London, and Inez acquired an English accent and (after meeting Emmeline Pankhurst) budding suffragist convictions. She returned to New York to study at the élite women’s college of Vassar, and because suffrage activism was banned by the college president, she led a group of her fellow students to a nearby cemetery ‘to listen to impassioned outpourings about the wrongs of their sex while seated on cherub-carved tombstones’.
After graduating in 1909, Inez sailed back to London and took part in increasingly activist suffrage rallies. Having been turned down by Cambridge University, she brought her radical politics back to New York and was labelled a ‘New Woman’ by newspaper reporters who were fascinated by her good looks and fashionable appearance. When she stood alongside striking textile workers on a New York picket line (in an evening gown as she was going to the opera afterwards) the New York Times article was headlined “Inez Milholland Helping”.
Milholland became a lawyer handling criminal and divorce cases in New York, and never gave up her campaigning. Recognizing the vote-winning value of a photo opportunity, in 1913 she led the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C. in suitably eye-catching style, wearing a coronet and a long white cape, while riding a white horse. Her story – along with that of the ‘Heterodoxy’ club she belonged to – is told in Joanna Scutts’s excellent new group biography, Hotbed: Bohemian New York and the secret club that sparked modern feminism (Duckworth). My review, ‘Dynamite debates: female autonomy in the early twentieth century’ is in this week’s TLS. I was pleased to see that the Readers’ Catalog of the New York Review of Books is offering greetings cards featuring a poster of this famous image (see above), acknowledging the important – and very stylish – part that Inez Milholland played in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Copyright Ann Kennedy Smith, 10 October 2022, all rights reserved