A suffrage road trip

May 2023

I was in Maine last week, just for a day. Andrew went to the boatyard, and I headed to the public library in Boothbay Harbor to write something I had been putting off for a while. Looking for a quiet corner where I could settle in for the afternoon, I walked into a room where an author was setting up for a book talk. I recognized the scene. With about ten minutes to go, one person was seated and a librarian, who was helping set up, called to me in a tone that was cheerful yet hopeful, “Are you here for the book talk?” Actually no. I was there to work, not even aware there was a book talk. But I have been that author, minutes before starting a talk, facing an audience of one or two, hoping someone else will materialize. I decided my writing could wait. Others joined, bringing the audience to a respectable size, and the author began her talk. She was dynamic and had an interesting story to tell about women’s history.

Anne Gass’s book is historical fiction. We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip is based on the true story of three women who, in 1915, traveled in a soft-top Willys-Overland touring car from San Francisco to Washington, DC to deliver a petition demanding  suffrage for women. The trip was the brainchild of Alice Paul and the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage. Women had been pushing for suffrage for decades, at least since the Seneca Falls convention in 1848, but this trip took activism to a new level. Instead of trying to persuade individual state legislatures to grant women the vote (as many western states had already done), this trip had a national focus, with speeches and publicity in 48 cities, and a finale timed to coincide with the opening day of the Congressional term.

Three individuals made the trip. Maria Kindberg and Ingebord Kindstedt, Swedish immigrants, were living in Providence, RI when they decided to visit the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, as the 1915 World’s Fair was known. They learned of Alice Paul’s desire to stage a cross-country trip in support of suffrage and, in San Francisco, bought a car and volunteered it for the cause, with Maria driving the 5,000 miles and Ingebord serving as on-board mechanic. The third woman on the trip was poet Sara Bard Field who acted as orator, addressing crowds at events staged along the way. A fourth woman, Frances Jolliffe, started on the trip but found the first leg so arduous that she bailed out in Sacramento and rejoined the group at the end, just outside the capitol.

As you know from last month’s newsletter, Andrew and I recently completed our own 5,000 mile trip to the west and back, but it was nothing like theirs. We drove a new Subaru on good roads, stayed in hotels and motels, and had access to restaurants, grocery stores or, lacking that, the food aisle at Dollar General. Their Willys-Overland couldn’t go over 20 mph, roads were often dirt paths, and sometimes they camped at night, or sought shelter at a nearby farmhouse. They also encountered a blizzard in the Sierra Nevadas, got lost in the desert and broke an axle. The one similarity between their trip and ours was getting stuck in backroads mud, they in Kansas, we in Utah, and being pulled out by helpful strangers.

To endure the trip, they had to have been really devoted to the cause of suffrage. It’s fair to ask, though, if their drive moved the needle. Yes, I think it did, even though 5 more years passed before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. Soon after they arrived in Washington and presented the petition, Congress scheduled a hearing on suffrage and President Wilson allowed that he had an “open mind.” Believe it or not, that was progress from a president who had previously ducked the issue and who waited 3 more years, until 1918, to endorse national suffrage for women.

I hadn’t known about this suffrage road trip before I attended Anne’s book talk. Not only was it enjoyable, but it reminded me that I should not overlook opportunities just because they’re not on my to-do list for the day.

Finally, here’s a modern quilt by Martha Wolfe, an artist who grew up hearing stories of her grandmother’s cousin, Sara Bard Field.

(Photo: Visions Museum of Textile Art, San Diego)

For more information, here are links to Anne’s and Martha’s websites.






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