Inez Milholland Boissevain

“I am trying to discharge my own individual debt to society by improving the conditions of life for women and children.” – Inez Milholland

Early Years & Education

Inez Milholland Boissevain was born into a progressive and affluent family in Brooklyn, New York, on August 6th, 1886. Her father was a successful businessman who advocated for peace, while her mother was a committed suffragist. They greatly influenced Inez, encouraging her to challenge societal norms and use her privilege to advocate for social reform.

Black and white photograph of Inez Milholland Boissevain sitting gracefully on an ornate chair. She is dressed in an elegant Edwardian gown with a square neckline and draped sleeves. Her hair is styled in an updo of the early 20th century, and she holds a rolled document in her left hand. She looks directly at the camera, conveying a sense of confidence and poise.
Inez Milholland Boissevain, 1911

The Milhollands moved to London when Inez was a child, providing her with a cosmopolitan upbringing and exposure to European culture. In 1901, the family returned to the United States and settled in the rural community of Lewis, New York.

In 1905, Inez entered Vassar College, an all-women’s institution. The college was a wellspring of young women eager to learn, and Inez was no exception. And alongside her learnings, it was here that her enthusiasm for social reform blossomed. She formed the Vassar Votes for Women Club and gained a reputation as a feminist and social reformer. But her activism often clashed with the conservative college administration. She was suspended multiple times for her suffrage-related activities. However, these punishments strengthened her courage, determination, and resolve for women’s rights.

Upon graduating from Vassar in 1909, Inez enrolled at the New York University School of Law. There, she faced discrimination and prejudice as one of the few women studying law. But her unwavering determination carried her through. While at law school, she joined the Women’s Trade Union League and the National Child Labor Committee, her commitment to social justice growing ever deeper.

Women’s Suffrage Movement

Eloquent, charismatic, and beautiful, Inez was ideal as a spokesperson for the cause. She became a key figurehead in the movement as she worked with prominent suffragists like Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Harriot Stanton Blatch.

1913 brought forth the most iconic moment of Inez Milholland’s working life. Thousands of women gathered in Washington, D.C., on March 3rd for the Women’s Suffrage Parade. The parade was organized by suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to make a powerful statement for women’s rights. And at the forefront of it was Inez Milholland.

Dressed in a flowing white cape and a crown of stars, Inez rode a white horse, leading the procession of an estimated 8,000 women down Pennsylvania Avenue. Her image as the “Suffrage Joan of Arc” captivated the nation and became an enduring symbol of the suffrage movement.

Historic black and white photograph showing Inez Milholland Boissevain mounted on a white horse during a suffrage parade. She is wearing a flowing white cape and a crown of laurel leaves, symbolizing victory. Her attire suggests that of a classical goddess, representing the purity and moral high ground of the suffrage movement. The crowd, composed of men and women in early 20th-century attire, watches on, with some women wearing hats typical of the suffragette movement. The text 'SUFFRAGE PARADE 1913' is visible at the top of the image.
Woman Suffrage Procession, 1913

In addition to her work for women’s rights, Inez championed other social causes. She fought for the rights of workers and African Americans, protested against child labor, and advocated for prison reform. Inez also supported the peace movement and was a Women’s Peace Party member.

In 1915, Inez married Dutch businessman and feminist Eugen Jan Boissevain. Their marriage, unorthodox for its time, was a testament to their shared belief in gender equality. The couple defied traditional gender roles, supporting each other in their respective pursuits and activism.

In 1916, Inez’s dedication to women’s suffrage led her to join the National Woman’s Party, whose confrontational approach to activism aligned with her fiery spirit. That same year, she embarked on a grueling speaking tour, traversing the western states to rally support for the cause.

Inez’s relentless pursuit of justice took a toll on her health. The punishing speaking tour left her fatigued and plagued with headaches. Yet, she persisted, unwilling to let her body betray her heart’s convictions.

One fateful evening on October 22nd, 1916, at Blanchard Hall in Los Angeles, Inez collapsed during a speech. The doctors diagnosed her with pernicious anemia, a life-threatening condition. As the autumn leaves fell around her, Inez Milholland’s health deteriorated. And on November 25th, 1916, at the young age of 30, she succumbed to the complications of her illness.

Her tragic death shocked the nation and galvanized the women’s suffrage movement. Inez’s final public words, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” resonated across the country, becoming a rallying cry for suffragists fighting for the right to vote.

Four years after Inez’s death, her dream came to fruition when the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote.

Notes

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Story Sources

Top photograph – Miss Inez Milholland. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/94506341/> / Second photograph – Inez Milholland Boissevain, wearing white cape, seated on white horse at the National American Woman Suffrage Association parade, March 3, Washington, D.C. [March 3] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/97510669/>.