Traveling for Suffrage Part 3: Flying by the seat of their skirts

Intern Patri O'Gan shares a unique story of woman suffrage for Women's History Month. Read previous posts in the "Traveling for Suffrage" series, including part one and part two.

Woman suffrage button in the museum's collection
Woman suffrage button in the museum's collection

By the decade leading up to the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, woman suffragists had been fighting for the vote for over 60 years, and some felt the movement was languishing. Before television, the Internet, and social media, how could suffragists garner national attention to help revitalize their cause? For some intrepid suffragists, the answer involved airplanes and suffrage "bombs." (Warning: this post contains blatant littering.)

Rosalie Jones (center) greeting a crowd with fellow suffragists. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [LC-DIG-ggbain-37542]
Rosalie Jones (center) greeting a crowd with fellow suffragists. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division [LC-DIG-ggbain-37542].

In May 1913, General Rosalie Jones, commander of the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) suffrage pilgrims, tried a new tactic to draw attention to the cause. She tied down her skirts, picked up some yellow suffrage leaflets, and climbed into a two-seat biplane.

The Benoist-Korn Type XII and the Fowler-Gage Biplane  below it are suggestive of the type of planes used during this period. Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
The Benoist-Korn Type XII (top) and the Fowler-Gage Biplane (bottom) are suggestive of the type of planes used during this period. Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

As part of the opening ceremony of an airplane carnival in Staten Island, New York, Jones flew over the crowds of carnival-goers and "bombed" people on the ground below with suffrage leaflets (apparently they weren't so concerned with littering in 1913!). After landing, Jones gave a speech in support of suffrage and closed the ceremony by releasing 100 brightly colored balloons into the air (again with the littering!). The press loved it and called her a "Pioneer Air Pilgrim." 

Lucy Burns and Lieutenant Maroney in hydroplane, Seattle, 1916. Courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party.
Lucy Burns and Lieutenant Maroney in hydroplane, Seattle, 1916. Courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party.

Perhaps inspired by General Jones, three years later suffragist Lucy Burns left the Suffrage Special train in Seattle (more on this in Part 4) and boarded a plane piloted by Terah Tom Maroney. Wearing her suffrage sash and carrying a suffrage banner which quickly blew away in the 80 mph winds, Burns dropped leaflets over Seattle to advertise the upcoming National Woman's Party Convention in Chicago, sponsored by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU). Although Burns flew with somewhat less fanfare than General Jones, the convention in Chicago was a success with delegates voting to establish what they called the world's first women's political party - the National Woman's Party.

The Presidential Yacht Mayflower by Alfred Addy, Courtesy of The White House Historical Association (White House Collection)
The Presidential Yacht Mayflower by Alfred Addy, Courtesy of The White House Historical Association (White House Collection).

In what was arguably the most controversial use of the dropping-suffrage-"bombs"-from-a-plane strategy, Mrs. John Blair and pilot Leda Richberg-Hornsby, both suffragists with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, "bombed" President Wilson while he was traveling on his Presidential yacht in December, 1916.

Drawing of Statue of Liberty wearing "Wilson for Suffrage" banner by Ray O. Evans, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC2-1198]
Drawing of Statue of Liberty wearing "Wilson for Suffrage" banner by Ray O. Evans, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC2-1198].

The President was participating in an extravagant ceremony to light the Statue of Liberty when Blair and Richberg-Hornsby, the first female graduate of the Wright School in Dayton, showered his yacht with suffrage leaflets from a two-seater biplane. No doubt this leaflet "bombing" caught the attention of the President and other dignitaries participating in the ceremony.

So far we've covered planes, yachts, cars, feet (or shoes?), and a horse-drawn wagon...

Women's Political Union delegation with oxcart, ca. 1910-1915, Courtesy of Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress [mnwp.276008]
Women's Political Union delegation with oxcart, ca. 1910-1915, Courtesy of Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress [mnwp.276008].

...and an oxcart. At some point there was an oxcart (although not in this narrative—it was just too great of a picture not to include). That leaves trains. Find out how trains furthered the suffrage movement in part 4, the final installment in the Traveling for Suffrage series.

Patri O'Gan is the James Lollar Hagan Intern with the Office of Programs and Strategic Initiatives. Don't miss part one and part two in her Traveling for Suffrage series.  

Posted at 7:00 am EDT in Intern Perspectives,Women's History