1916 St Louis “The Golden Lane”
Three thousand women, completely dressed in white, lined the streets of St. Louis for five blocks in the sweltering heat of June, 1916. Golden parasols protected them from the sun, and golden sashes draped from their shoulders. It was a long five blocks for the delegates to the Democratic convention to walk from the hotel to the convention center. They were in St. Louis to re nominate Woodrow Wilson to his second term as president. His campaign slogan was “He kept us out of war.”
The ladies of St. Louis were lobbying for a plank in the party platform in support of women’s suffrage – the right to vote. Their golden sashes said “Votes for Women,” and they stood in silence, a tableau of the simple demand for the right to vote. The St. Louis ladies reinvigorated the movement with a striking demonstration of silence, often described as a “walkless-talkless parade”, sometimes as “The Golden Lane.” The suffragists’ Chicago counterparts also lobbied the Republican convention that year, in search of a like party platform plank. The Chicago event was a traditional parade.
It had been a long and arduous campaign for female suffrage, since 1848, and the suffragists knew the time for a federal amendment was coming. Being a suffragist was now even considered fashionable, and no longer seen as the ravings of disgruntled outliers.
By 1916, American women could vote in 12 states. Even when pressed by women’s suffrage leaders, President Woodrow Wilson always seemed to have other priorities on his agenda, and he told the women to wait patiently, or, he told them that the issue belonged to the individual states.
This year, 2016, is the centennial of this St. Louis historical event in women’s suffrage history. I first saw the photograph of “The Golden Lane” when a friend posted it on Facebook, and I found the image compelling. I purchased and read a book, “The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History” by Margot McMillen. I was inspired to champion the creation of a centennial celebration of “The Golden Lane.”
I approached contacts at the Missouri History Museum and the League of Women Voters, who both enthusiastically embraced doing a re-enactment of “The Golden Lane” and celebration. Working with the League, we have named it Celebrate the Vote Festival, and the event will be September, 2016 in downtown St. Louis. The event, still in development, will include a parade, music, speakers, art, food, shopping, fun and, of course, voter registration.
A centennial is a special occasion. A time to look back and honor those that came before: their courage, commitment, their forward thinking. It is a time to admire those who went against the social norms of their day, and dared to dream of a better life. And, it is a time to admire those that put a cause ahead of their personal day-to-day lives. Yet, even as we reflect and honor the past, we must realize that history is an ongoing story, and each of us is a part of it. Why study history? To learn our story, and to discover the part we will play in the next act.
Let’s Celebrate our History!