Unsung Heroes: Road Trip for Suffrage

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.

ara Bard Field, Maria Kindberg and Ingeborg Kindstedt

From left, Sara Bard Field, Maria Kindberg and Ingeborg Kindstedt stand in front of the automobile they drove from California to Washington, D.C. It was shocking for women to travel alone at this time. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, National Woman’s Party Records)

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.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. How might better transportation or technologies have affected the women’s suffrage movement?
  2. Compare and contrast the efficacy of technology then to the use of the Internet in raising the visibility of an issue today.

Do you have an “Unsung Hero” that you would like included in the Digital Classroom? Visit our blog for more details on the Unsung Heroes Writing Contest.  

The Newseum Digital Classroom is a free resource featuring primary sources, interactives, historic newsreels, videos and lesson plans that bring history, journalism and the First Amendment to life for students.

One thought on “Unsung Heroes: Road Trip for Suffrage

  1. This was a great trip! I retraced their route in the fall of 2015, and I can tell you that even with all of the modern conveniences it was a hard trip for me – they truly suffered on this trip, and Mabel Vernon later said she never fully recovered from it. I’m so glad you’re giving them this richly deserved recognition!

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