Spectacles — human beings are apparently “wired” to adore or abhor them. And I don’t mean the eyeglasses kind of spectacles. I’m talking about kicking up a fuss, making a scene, creating big waves of people, horses, bands, floats, and … the Statue of Liberty?
On Jan. 1, look for Ms. Liberty in the Rose Parade. You can’t miss her; she’s 30 feet tall, wearing a “Votes for Women” sash, and her tablet has the 19th Amendment, the amendment that women fought hard to win in order to vote, like “real” citizens.
Women will be front and center in this parade: the city of South Pasadena also has a suffrage-themed float, and the Tournament of Roses Association itself is led by Laura Farber. She’s a dynamic leader — the third woman and first Latina as its president.
The float’s name is “Years of Hope, Years of Courage,” and the motto is “Upon their shoulders, we won the vote. Upon our shoulders, we protect the vote. We celebrate and build for the future.” For nearly 100 years before 1920, women who knew they’d never live long enough to vote dedicated their lives to making sure their descendants could… whether they were women or people of color of both genders. Considering their sacrifice, voting in any election is imperative; in 2020, it is vital.
Today, thanks to the efforts of a small but mighty group of women led by Nan Johnson, a retired professor at Rochester University in New York, the dream of having a Rose Parade float honoring women’s suffrage has become a reality. It is also a dream come true for many ardent women’s history and rights activists. Ms. Johnson and too many people to name got the float project rolling, while Martha Wheelock — a board member of the National Women’s History Alliance, a 501c3 — has been the liaison so that the donations for the float are tax-deductible.
As the float passes by or appears on your TV screen, look for 100 women (and a few men) walking in period attire behind it, along with with notable people riding on it. I’ll be one of the “Out-Walkers” as they are called, and Dolores Huerta will be on the float, joined by descendants of heroes like Ida B. Wells, Harriett Ross Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Like the Statue of Liberty, they will wear the sash of gold, purple and white — the colors of the US Women’s suffrage movement.
The Out-Walkers are not only following the float but also a tradition started by Alice Paul in 1913. Alice, along with Lucy Burns, organized the first march down Pennsylvania Avenue to draw attention to the fact that only one-half of US citizens could vote: men. Women were expected to not be seen in public, let alone marching in a parade. Horrors! And voting? Poppycock — that was for men only.
To win the vote for women, Ms. Paul exhorted girls and women to break the rules, make a ruckus, create a spectacle, escape their corsets, and the rigid custom of infantilizing females. We were treated like children, and like kids we were expected to be seen and not heard. In my own life, I remember my mother — usually under her breath, to avoid making a scene — exhorting me to “not make a spectacle of myself.” Boy, did that admonition backfire!
Not all women won the right to vote in 1920. Women of color were mainly left out; not only were they restricted from marching in suffrage parades, but there were policies to prevent them from voting in many states. Pasadena Celebrates 2020 is an intersectional tribute to those who were omitted in the past.
I am honored to march for my ancestors, especially my grandmothers Aline and Edna, who were both married with children by the time they could vote. I’m also marching for South Dakota, my home state, the 36th original ratifier of the 19th Amendment. I’ll be joined by 35 other Out-Walkers representing their states. We are overjoyed to make “spectacles” of ourselves!
And remember what author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
PS … If you’d like to donate to help with float expenses and/or help decorate the Suffrage float, go to pasadenacelebrates2020.org.
PPS … Live on Green! Free for families at 300 E. Green Street; from December 28 through December 31. Activities for everyone. For hours and dates, visit liveongreenpasadena.com. The National Women’s History Alliance will have a table there.
Ellen has written Consider This… for a very long time! Reach her at beautybitesbeast.com.