Throughout March, in honor of Women’s History Month, we will be featuring unsung heroes and stories of the women’s suffrage movement. You can find more of those well-known and not-so-well-known stories in our Digital Classroom “Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less ” module, endorsed by NCSS. To access these resources, you must be signed into the Digital Classroom; registration is free.
When the Women’s Voters Convention, held at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, presented a petition with a half a million names on it in support of women’s suffrage, they needed a way to get it to President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C. It wasn’t going to be easy; the petition was over 18,000 pages long.
Alice Paul, leader of the Congressional Union, suggested a cross-country automobile trip and enlisted Sara Bard Field and Frances Joliffe to represent the Congressional Union on the journey. Unfortunately, Joliffe became ill and was forced to drop out of the trip. Field was joined by two Swedish women, Maria Kindberg and Ingeborg Kindstedt, who provided the vehicle, driver and mechanical expertise. Their cross-country road trip began in September 1915.
In 1915, there wasn’t a unified system of roads that connected the coasts of the United States and it was shocking for women to drive alone at the time. The women endured trips along dirt roads, some without regular access to gas stations or places to stay. Along the way, Field used every opportunity to talk about suffrage and encourage others to support the cause by using her skills as a poet and public speaker.
After three months, the women traveled 5,000 miles between the west and east coasts. They were met with increasingly enthusiastic audiences and successfully delivered the petition to President Wilson. Impressed by the size of the petition, the president expressed his tentative support for the cause.
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